Year after Columbine, kids say DHS is safer |

Year after Columbine, kids say DHS is safer

by Merrie Leininger, Staff Writer

In the year following the Columbine High School shooting, Douglas High School officials have made an effort to make the school safer, and students said it has worked.

Whether it was the increased police presence, harsher rules or the higher maturity level of students, the school seems to be a safer place, students said Monday.

“Right after (the Columbine shooting) happened, I didn’t feel very safe. Some kids wore black trench coats,” said 11th grader Gabriela Vazquez. “But then they took care of it by saying no one could wear trench coats and certain things.”

On Tuesday, April 20, 1999, two Columbine High School students entered the Colorado school and began shooting, killing 12 students, and a teacher, before taking their own lives. Evidence the two boys left behind suggested the killings were retribution for years of harassment by more popular students.

Soon after, DHS officials stopped students from wearing anything that could possibly be used as a weapon, such as safety pins.

Other students said restricting backpacks and coats in assemblies also made them feel safer.

“Since the school took so many steps, I feel pretty safe. It’s just a little town. Of course, so was Columbine. But there are cops here all the time. I always see two cars outside at lunch and they are always at assemblies,” 11th grader James Beam said.

However, Shawn Salisbury, also a junior, said the restrictive dress code hasn’t changed anything, because there wasn’t a safety problem in the first place.

The school has taken a particular interest in students who make threats or get into fights.

Senior Jerry Eckart said he has seen a significant drop in student fights this year.

“I think it’s safer. I’ve only seen a couple of fights all year. I think (it is because) the security guards and always having the cops here at lunch time and after school,” he said.

Sophomore Matt Keller said the students have been thinking about the harsh suspension rules before threatening other students.

“It happens a lot, but not as much as last year. You have all those rules, like if you threaten someone, you get suspended,” Keller said.

Vice Principal Tom Morgan said he, the other administrators and the security guards monitor the lunchtime activity, even by going to the restaurants that students regularly frequent.

He also attributed the lack of violence in the school to the strict weapons and threats rules and the active role security guards and police officers have taken on campus.

Security guards Greg John and Pat Biersdorff have worked at the school for 11 and 12 years, respectively.

John said he has seen a dramatic drop in fights on campus this year – 80 percent less.

“Absolutely. I think the education is trickling down. Kids are smarter now,” John said. “The first couple of years I was here, it was a rodeo. There were half a dozen fights a day. Now, it’s almost never. I’m sure (Columbine) had an effect, too. They don’t like living in a police state. They want to be treated like people.”

Morgan said he thinks the students don’t like having to face fellow students before Peer Court.

The court was started by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office last year. Any student who is accused of bullying or harassing other students or teachers has the option of being disciplined before peer court instead of school administrators.

– Intervention. The School Safety Intervention Team works under the school partnership grant that funds peer court.

The team is made up of four officers who are trained to intervene in matters of bullying, intimidation and violence in schools.

DCSO Lt. Mike Biaggini said if anyone sees a potential for violence building up between two students or groups of students, they can call a deputy on the team.

“They will make contact with the individuals and take steps to quell the situation,” Biaggini said. “Depending on the nature of the case, the officers might visit the parents if they find some problems directed back to the home life, lack of discipline or lack of supervision.”

Although the department had made a commitment to school safety before a parents’ symposium in September, Biaggini said he thinks it made a difference in how parents responded to school violence.

“I really do. It was disappointing for the lack of turnout, but certainly those parents that were present had a lot of positive comments about the presentations. A lot had a lot of good questions and have done some follow-up,” he said.

Biaggini credited deputies who have put in a lot of time on the campus this year and students who have worked with Peer Court and helped “open the lines of communication, letting us know if there were going to be problems.”

Biaggini said it was the students’ idea to start an anonymous tip line for students. He said it has been used by some students to give DCSO general information. The safeline number is 783-SAFE (7233), and is answered by an officer 24 hours a day.

“The safeline was a suggestion by the kids. I think it really shows how the kids and cops are working together to try to make the school a safer place to be,” Biaggini said.