Off Limits

Heeling power: Volunteers began packing up the Columbine shrines at Clement Park Monday. But debris from peripheral damage keeps piling up, and it's getting deep.

Also on Monday, the White House held its warm-and-fuzzy summit on youth violence, during which President Bill Clinton begged the entertainment industry to clean up its act. His request might be more compelling were he not heading to Hollywood later this week for a fundraiser hosted by movie moguls. But this is far from the last Columbine-inspired summit we'll see. Up With People snagged General Colin Powell, who stayed silent at the April 25 memorial service, as the keynote speaker for its May 12 Celebration of Peace banquet in Denver that launches the National Student Life Initiative; Colorado's Wayne Allard is chairing the new twelve-member Senate task force on youth violence (the roster also includes Ben Nighthorse Campbell); the Colorado Children's Campaign plans to hold eleven community meetings across the state; and Governor Bill Owens and Attorney General Ken Salazar (who, along with former governor Roy Romer, attended Clinton's confab) have their own summit on youth violence set for June 19. In the meantime, Littleton Public Schools--located a few critical feet from Columbine, which is actually in unincorporated Jefferson County, not that many national reporters ever recognized that--is holding its own forum on school violence on May 17.

But the strangest gathering of all--"on a simple and scientifically proven program to end school violence"--is set for this Saturday in Jackson, Wyoming. The solution? Transcendental meditation. "The Columbine High School tragedy and the war in Kosovo are related, as both are expressions of stress in collective consciousness," says Ashley Deans, director of the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment in Fairfield, Iowa. "The only scientifically proven way to reduce individual and collective stress is the TM and TM-Sidi program including Yogic Flying." Peter Carperelli, the Teton County superintendent of schools, chimes in: "The whole situation is so big that we need to look at as many viable options as we can. We can't be narrow-minded about solutions."

But two of the more peculiar characters to emerge from the tragedy were brought back to earth Monday. Wannabe bomb-threatener Faye Ralene Holt and wannabe bomb-part supplier Gary Sowell, a now-former Hugh M. Woods clerk who fabricated a story about selling suspicious items to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, both had the first of many days in Jefferson County Court.

The shooting has also been an open invitation for anyone pushing their own self-interests. Hanging above the third urinal at Wazoo's in LoDo is an ad for an Internet company called CyberHighway. "Due to the recent Columbine Tragedy! We at CyberHighway want to apologize for unintentionally promoting bombs on the Internet. We want to promote a safe Internet service for you and your family. We are offering the first month's proceeds to the Columbine Memorial Fund when mentioning this ad. Plans starting at $9.95. Call us today." Thank God--our Oklahoma City Bombing coupons just expired.

School daze: The benefits package for the Denver Public School District's new superintendent probably won't include a stipend to help pay for private school for his or her kids--but maybe it should. From illiterate third-graders and textbook shortages to state-mandated quality tests and the increasing popularity of charter schools, things are going to get worse for DPS before they get better--if they get better.

Just look at District 5 school-board member Rita Montero, who abandoned her own constituents and fled the problems at Skinner Middle School--in the part of the district she supposedly represents--by enrolling her son in Hamilton Middle School in southeast Denver. This vote of no confidence has left parents in north Denver wondering what to do with their own kids.

Although the next school year will probably start with an interim leader, a permanent sucker, er, superintendent should be in place soon after, according to Overton Consulting, the Wisconsin headhunting firm that is screening candidates for DPS. But the search may be off to a questionable start, since the firm began by giving the citizens of Denver a multiple-choice test to determine what we want the new superintendent to do. Overton placed a newspaper ad asking people to rank a list of 28 priorities suggested by the district; Friday is the deadline to return the survey.

Does the district really think that any of these things--"Focusing more on reading and math literacy"; "Improving classroom discipline"; "Focusing on school safety"; "Implementing state standards"; "Holding teachers accountable for student achievement"; and "Identifying and intervening in low-performing schools"--could be low-priority? Apparently.

"When I recruit, I'm looking for people who have experience in whatever those priorities are," says Nancy Noeske, a partner with Overton. "We'll summarize the responses and send a report to the board in a couple of weeks. I'll present candidates sometime in mid-June. I'm waiting to see what the pool is like."

To help narrow that pool, here are some additional priorities the new superintendent might want to consider:

1. Giving up the impressionable minds of students to big corporations--fast food, shoes, video games--in exchange for lots of quick cash.

2. Walking door-to-door to reclaim missing textbooks. Sure, there's an embarrassing shortage of materials in our schools, but who wants to spend any of that corporate money on education?

3. Keeping janitors off of Internet porn sites when they're working late at night in the computer lab.

4. Thinking of excuses for why school-board members and teachers keep pulling their own children out of certain DPS schools.

5. Spinning the lack of improvement in third-grade reading skills to the media, the legislature, teachers, parents and private therapists.

6. Protecting incompetent administrators and blaming problems on the teachers' union.

7. Smiling and nodding during four-hour school-board meetings.
8. Keeping an eye out for warning signs of troubled youth, such as class videos showing students walking through the hallways, pretending to gun down their classmates and blow up their school.

Sorry, wrong numbers: AT&T looks like the winning bidder--at $62.5 billion--to buy MediaOne, the US West spinoff that's the state's most valuable company since other biggies such as Tele-Communications Inc. have been gobbled up by, yes, AT&T (TCI went for a measly $48 billion). "Who wins in the merger between AT&T and MediaOne?" asks a full-page ad in Monday's dailies. "You do. That's who...Competition means consumers will win with lower prices, new innovations and increased choices. Promises made. Promises kept."

But just two months ago, AT&T's cellular division was ready to screw over one Colorado consumer. In March, the corporate giant surrendered the cell-phone records of Channel 7 reporter Julie Hayden to the public defenders representing Nathan Thill against charges that he murdered African immigrant Oumar Dia--without so much as a courtesy call to Hayden or her lawyer. KMGH-TV attorney Bruce Jones learned at the last minute that the records--which allegedly contained calls from police sources to Hayden--were about to be used at a preliminary hearing. Jones rushed to the courthouse to block their release.

Last month, AT&T recognized the error of its ways and promised that in the future, all of its subsidiaries will use the main company's policy of notifying anyone whose records it's about to hand over. (According to the Wall Street Journal, the company responds to about 15,000 subpoenas a year.) But AT&T makes no promise to protect its customers from such requests (although it's certainly been making nice behind the scenes with Channel 7 to atone for its nitwitted release of a reporter's confidential work product). So far, the assorted judges in the Thill case--first Federico Alvarez, then Dick Spriggs--have declined to reconsider their stance, and Hayden's records have remained sealed. But Alvarez has since moved on to a job at US West, and last week, Spriggs accepted a position with new U.S. Attorney Tom Strickland. So until it's reassigned to yet another Denver District Court judge, the Thill case--and all arguments connected to it--are on hold.

Off Limits is compiled by Jonathan Shikes. If you have a tip, call him at 303-293-3555, send a fax to 303-296-5416, or e-mail [email protected].

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