School Safety Reminders on 10th Anniversary of Columbine

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One of the most shocking incidents of school violence in history occurred 10 years ago in Columbine, Colo. On April 20, 1999, two Columbine High School students killed 12 students and a teacher, wounded 23 others, and then committed suicide. While the vast majority of U.S. schoolchildren can walk into their schools with the knowledge that they are entering safe and secure buildings, AFT president Randi Weingarten says, the tragic events that occurred 10 years ago at Columbine are a grim reminder of the possibility of violence in school.

"The AFT has long been a proponent of proactive measures to ensure that all students, teachers and school staff are afforded a supportive and safe learning and working environment," Weingarten says. "Large-scale violent acts like those at Columbine, though rare, understandably grab our attention. However, it is crucial that we focus on early intervention to address more common signs of antisocial behavior-such as bullying, teasing, fighting and harassment-before they lead to tragedy."

The following elements are essential to preventing violence in schools:

  • Social skills and bullying-prevention programs that are designed and implemented with the support of school staff, the student body and all other stakeholders;
  • Partnerships with service agencies that can support the needs of students in a coordinated manner;
  • High-quality alternative placements for chronically disruptive and violent students;
  • Detailed school safety plans;
  • High standards for safe buildings; and
  • Schoolwide systems of rules and behavioral expectations that are communicated and implemented in a firm, fair and consistent manner.

"The AFT encourages its 1.4 million members to take time to remember and discuss the Columbine massacre and other in-school tragedies with their administrators, peers and, if appropriate, students," Weingarten says. "As we reflect on the lives lost or forever changed, we also must keep in mind our responsibility as educators, parents and communities to work together to find ways to prevent this type of violence from repeating itself."

April 17, 2009