Schooled Reporting on education

A long road to recovery

Education | Communities tear down, rebuild, and seek justice after school shootings
by Loren Skinker & Laura Edghill
Posted 6/12/19, 05:38 pm

State and local officials in Texas, Florida, and Colorado all took steps this week to respond to the needs of communities rocked by school shootings that occurred years or even decades ago.

Devastation from a mass shooting at Columbine High School still reverberates in Littleton, Colo., where two students shot and killed 13 people on April 20, 1999. In an open letter to the community last week, Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Jason E. Glass said the school board is considering demolishing the high school, which has cemented itself as a “point of origin” in the history of school shootings in the United States.

The 20th anniversary of the shooting attracted many “Columbiners,” a term coined by Glass to describe individuals who are lured to the school because of its morbid past.

“Over the past 11 months, the number of people trying to enter the school illegally or otherwise trespassing on school property has been increasing—now to a record level,” he said.

Tour buses even pull into the school’s parking lot so that out-of-towners can gawk at the building. Glass is concerned that this increasing fascination could lead to more gun violence. The school board is gauging voter opinion about raising between $60 and $70 million through taxes to construct a new high school that would bear the same name.

Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was razed in 2013, one year after a shooting there claimed the lives of 20 children and six staff members. Plans are in place to tear down Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site of the Parkland, Fla., massacre that left 17 dead on Valentine’s Day 2018.

Just last week, prosecutors brought charges against a former deputy who was at Stoneman Douglas during the shooting and failed to confront the gunman. Scot Peterson was briefly jailed and released on bail on 11 criminal counts. Dubbed “The Broward Coward” by some, Peterson has consistently defended his actions, stating that he made the best decisions he could in the heat of the moment.

Michael Grieco, a Miami Beach, Fla., attorney and Democratic member of the Florida House of Representatives, said that though the charges against Peterson are popular in the court of public opinion, they probably won’t hold up in court.

“Although as a father, legislator, and human being, I believe that there is no societal defense to cowardice, the law has consistently and recently held that there is no constitutional duty for police to protect us from harm,” Grieco said.

Other communities where school shootings took place are trying to recover by enacting laws that aim to prevent further tragedies. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed a law Thursday that will allow more teachers to carry guns in schools and expand mental health services for students.

“We are proud to have responded to one of the most horrific days in the state of Texas,” he said, referring to the May 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School in the town of the same name in which eight students and two teachers were killed. “We can never erase the pain that this tragedy caused, but we can act to make our schools safer.”

The new law removes previous limits on the number of trained marshals allowed in Texas schools. Teachers and other school personnel can opt into the voluntary training program, which includes “active shooter” scenarios. Prior to the Santa Fe High shooting, there were only 40 marshals in the state’s more than 1,000 school districts. One year later, that number has swelled to nearly 200.

Just last month, Florida also expanded its own school guardian program, opening police-style training to more teachers. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a majority of states already allow some school staff members besides security guards to carry guns on campus provided they comply with policies their local school districts set.

Associated Press/Photo by Gary Cosby Jr./The Tuscaloosa News Associated Press/Photo by Gary Cosby Jr./The Tuscaloosa News Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr. (left) and his wife, Eliza, at a portrait unveiling in September 2018 at the University of Alabama

Not-so-cheerful giver

The University of Alabama returned a $26.5 million gift Friday after the wealthy donor urged students to boycott the university’s law school over the state’s recent passage of a landmark law protecting the unborn.

“What have you done, Alabama?” Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr. said in response to the law that makes performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by prison time for abortionists. The 70-year-old Florida businessman and attorney complained publicly about the legislation and called on prospective students to steer clear of the university’s law school, saying, “I don’t want anybody to go to that law school, especially women, until the state gets its act together.”

Last September, Culverhouse made the largest single donation the university had ever received. In return, the law school was renamed the Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr. School of Law. Moments after Friday’s decision to return the funds, maintenance crews stripped the Culverhouse name from campus signs.

University officials denied the move was linked to Culverhouse’s recent comments about the state law protecting the unborn. They released emails claiming to prove that the school had already decided to return Culverhouse’s money before his boycott remarks because he tried to influence school admission, the hiring and firing of professors, and other internal matters.

University Chancellor Finis E. St. John IV said Culverhouse’s expectations for the use of the gift were “inconsistent with the essential values of academic integrity and independent administration” at Alabama.

The real estate mogul did not attend the university himself, but his parents did. The business school still bears the name of Hugh F. Culverhouse Sr., who was a generous donor to his alma mater. —L.E.

Associated Press/Photo by Rich Pedroncelli Associated Press/Photo by Rich Pedroncelli High School senior Sean Newsom at the burned ruins of his home in Paradise, Calif.

Pomp in difficult circumstances

A class of 220 determined seniors graduated Thursday on the high school football field in their fire-ravaged California town. November 2018 brought an unexpected last day of school for the fall semester when the deadly Camp Fire engulfed the town of 26,000. It destroyed more than 14,000 homes, sending residents scattering into temporary housing. Of the 980 students at the Northern California high school, 900 became homeless overnight. Many families assumed they had seen the last of Paradise High School.

After the first of the year, though, a makeshift school opened in nearby Chico, Calif., and more than 700 students resumed classes at the new location. That included the 220 seniors who graduated last week in their original football stadium, which somehow made it through the fire unscathed.

Despite such a massive upheaval in the middle of senior year, school officials report that the graduating class defied the odds and finished strong, with seven valedictorians, as well as Northern California’s only National Merit Scholar.

“The senior class is pretty exceptional,” said Paradise High School Principal Loren Lighthall, who also lost his home and has been living in a 1,100-square-foot apartment with his wife and five of their seven children.

The Camp Fire was California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire ever, killing 85 people and causing $16.5 billion dollars in damages. Numerous families remain displaced six months later, and controversy swirls regarding the advisability of rebuilding in certain fire-prone areas. —L.E.

Loren Skinker

Loren is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

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Laura Edghill

Laura is a freelance writer, church communications director, and public school board member living in Clinton Township, Mich., with her engineer husband and three sons. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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    Posted: Sat, 06/15/2019 12:10 am

    Blessing be on you and the students of the University of Alabama.