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.