Columbine taught us lessons in school safety

Published 9:52 pm Friday, April 17, 2009

On April 20, 1999, two students at Columbine High School in Colorado went on a killing spree unlike any seen before, killing 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide.

Now, 10 years later, we can see the effects that it has had on school safety nationwide and here in Demopolis.

“Columbine kind of changed everything,” said Dr. Wayne Vickers, the superintendent of Demopolis City Schools. “During that time there were flare-ups in other areas, like in West Paducah, Ky., and Jonesboro, Ark. What it did is make us realize that we need to be very prepared for any type of incident.”

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“It has made us more vigilant,” said Demopolis police chief Tommie Reese. “It has made us more aware that the dangers are definitely there. No one expected it to ever happen there, and I just hope and pray that it never happens here.”

Vickers said that each of the four Demopolis schools — Demopolis High School, Demopolis Middle School, U.S. Jones Elementary School and Westside Elementary School — has an emergency plan.

“It has to be sent to the state and approved,” he said. “Looking at all of the things that they’ve learned in the past 15 years in school safety, they do a very good monitoring of that safety plan. Our faculties are prepared; they know what to do. Our principals lead them through that safety plan each year.

“I believe that is all a product of what happened in those events. Columbine was a terrible experience, and I think it made people realize that we need to go above and beyond in ensuring the safety of our students.”

Part of that safety for Demopolis schools is the introduction of a school resource officer, Sgt. Tim Williams. Having a police officer on campus helps to deter many problem situations.

“That has been something that certainly helps, having an officer in the hallways on campus, dedicated to serving the school system and the students in our city,” Vickers said. “It has made a big difference.

“I am very confident that we have a very safe system and a very safe city. We are very fortunate. But, we are prepared for anything that may come our way. We take safety very seriously, and we have done some things that have made our schools even safer.”

Reese confirmed that, saying schools are taking steps to ensure safety.

“Everyone is being proactive now, instead of being reactive,” he said. “Something that would mean nothing back in the day, now it means something. If you find a threatening note, it is taken very seriously.”

Reese added that he is seeking a second resource officer for the schools through a Community-Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant.

Vickers said that school safety is a team effort, from the school administrators, teachers and staff to the students and parents.

“I also think our parents do a good job of sharing with their students what is acceptable to bring to school and what is not,” Vickers said. “It’s all a team effort, making that work. Columbine did change everything; it was such a shock. But I feel very comfortable and very confident with the school safety plans and the things that we do in our system to be prepared.”