When students Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris entered Columbine (Colo.) High School on April 20,1999, and shot 12 students, a teacher and themselves, Rick Kaufman was director of school communications for Jefferson County Public Schools.
Within minutes of the shooting, he was at Columbine helping wounded students.
Today, Kaufman is executive director of community relations and emergency management for Bloomington Public Schools. Motivated by the Columbine tragedy, he continues to help school districts implement ways to be safer.
He said the number of school shootings have spiked again since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last December and use of guns will surpass car accidents as a leading cause of deaths among young people next year.
Kaufman agrees with critics who say you can’t stop the “active shooter” who enters a school to kill.
He counsels school districts that buying time and taking measures to prevent these incidents are the best approaches because most active shooters kill their victims within the first three minutes, while it takes three to four minutes for police to arrive on scene.
Often, the shooter had a history of threatening suicide, was bullied or threatened, and suffered from depression. And in just about all cases, someone knew about the shooter’s intentions ahead of time.
Last fall, Bloomington voters approved a technology and school security bond, of which $2 million per year for 10 years was intended to make their schools more secure.
This summer, construction will begin to modify school entrances as part of a new Access Management System. Main entrances will be renovated to limit school access by guiding visitors into the office once school is in session. Visitors will check in via a Visitor Management System that screens visitors against a database for sexual offenders and parent custodial rights before allowing access to the school.
Other improvements include:
• New alarm buttons to be used in an emergency to close off all fire doors leading to wings of the schools.
• Laminated or film on entrance windows and doors designed to limit shattering, unlike how the shooter got into Sandy Hook Elementary School.
• All doors with access to playfields, athletic fields and staff parking lots will be equipped with keyless access control units. The new system will also detect if a door is propped open or an attempt is made to pry it open.
The district has also implemented training of each school’s emergency response team, and eventually all staff, in ongoing efforts to ensure schools are safer and more secure.
Kaufman said staff has embraced the new security measures and training.
“Knowing what to do in a crisis can be the difference between chaos and calm, and in some cases even life and death,” Kaufman said. “That’s powerful for understanding the need to be prepared.”
The challenge for school administrators is balancing the desire for schools to be a welcoming environment while being more secure.
Kaufman said we live in a different time, where easier access to guns and violent response has become more the norm to resolving a person’s real or perceived wrongs.
Usually the active shooter is a person who has familiarity with the school, often a current or former student. It’s obvious more students are coming from dysfunctional families.
Kaufman said the district is better prepared today than a year ago and will be better prepared next year than this year.
“We must remain vigilant, from intervention and prevention programs to address students before they turn to violence, and preparation and response for incidents we hope never occur,” he said.
The shooting at Columbine High School is never far from his mind, nor is the promise he made to the victims’ families, that “if we can prevent one student death as a result of a violent act, then we’ve honored the memories of all those killed or injured.”
Don Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers. Editor’s note: The Stillwater School District is also taking steps to increase security, such as modifying entrances to some buildings. The district is paying for the changes with money from the levy voters approved last fall.