Doom Rules

Much of what we think we know about Columbine is wrong.

"I moved out of Denver because I was tired of the city council," he says, "and now it's the same thing--people with attitudes who won't even give me a call."

Like a lot of conservatives stirred to action by the massacre, Schweitzberger sees the violence of April 20 as symptomatic of a larger breakdown in social values rather than a reflection of the bully-boy jock culture at Columbine. "The two killers had a perfectly good coach available, Coach Sanders," he says. "They chose Coach Hitler. We've been preaching tolerance. Why should we have to tolerate something like that?

"From what I know, the school was doing its job. But you take a little poison from Howard Stern and a little violence from Jerry Springer and this stuff on the Internet--I'm not for censorship, but how much of this are we supposed to take? Sure, there ought to be some local heroes who aren't capable of throwing the ball sixty yards. But how do you pick Adolf Hitler as a role model?"

The killings, he believes, are a watershed event that will prompt parents and students nationwide to become more involved in shaping the values of their schools. "We are no longer Generation X or Y," Schweitzberger declares. "We are the Columbine Generation, people of all ages who will not apologize for our faith, who will pay more attention to what's going on in the schools. Whenever a Columbine student has something to say for the next three years, the class that my daughter is in, the world will tune in."

Yet there seems to be little consensus within the community about how to stem the plague of school violence. Some grassroots groups are pushing gun legislation; others want increased security, a battery of checkpoints to protect students from enemies foreign and domestic; still others promote hug-a-thons and diversity clubs as ways to defuse hatred before it explodes. The school district has moved cautiously, tightening security policies--for example, allowing staffers to "interrogate" students without a parental presence if parents can't be reached--while denying that the moves have anything to do with the massacre.

A community task force has devised a bolder set of recommendations for Jeffco schools, but several of the more sweeping proposals, including a strict dress code ("underwear may not camouflage") and closed campuses, have been greeted with skepticism by many of the group's own members. (At one recent meeting of the task force, Principal DeAngelis pointed out that Columbine couldn't close its campus and still feed all of its 1,900 students without extending the school day substantially.)

"I'm hearing from the schools [an emphasis on] 'tolerance and inclusiveness,' and I'm hearing from the parents 'character and respect,'" says Don Lee, the state legislator who organized the task force. "There seems to be a philosophical difference there."

Some parents believe that the Jefferson County school district, the largest in the state and one of the largest in the country, is simply too unwieldy and bureaucratic to be responsive to their concerns. Randy Brown, who recently called on the school board to resign, would like to see the district dissolved into several smaller, more locally accountable agencies.

"The bureaucracy doesn't bend, and apathetic parents like me let them get away with it," he says. "You want to stop the public anger over this, so you break into eighty committees and have them do nothing until things quiet down."

Brian Rohrbough supports some of the measures that have been discussed, such as an anonymous tip line for students. "The kids need to have some kind of board of independent parents that they can contact when they see things going on that shouldn't happen," he says. "There has to be some way for accountability to take place."

Yet Rohrbough, too, believes that the district has been expending more energy on ducking criticism than on making positive changes in response to the shootings. He points to the emotional issue of whether to reopen the Columbine library, where ten victims died. The district had drawn up plans for some minor changes in the site and was preparing to show them to the public when victims' families protested; the question of what to do with the library remains on hold.

"The decision of what to do with that location should be left up to the parents whose kids were murdered or wounded there," Rohrbough says. "But this was like everything else they've done. They've left the parents out of the process."

Columbine students are feeling left out, too. Security at Chatfield during the final weeks of classes was so airtight that some students scribbled "Chatfield Prison" on their IDs and grumbled about being treated like cattle. Students have only minimal representation on Lee's task force, and that's alarming to those who see the proposed crackdown as a threat to their privacy and their rights of free expression. Some fear that Columbine could become a more hostile environment than it ever was before.

"We hardly have a voice on this task force, and we're going to have to endure this, not them," says Sarah Bay. "This is mostly for the parents to feel safe, not for us. I know people who are afraid of going back to school because of the way they're going to be treated."

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