20 years after Columbine, what have Pa. schools learned?

National and World

(WBRE/WYOU-TV) – Twenty years ago, the world watched in shock and disbelief. Two students carried out a massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

Twelve students and one teacher were brutally killed, and it remains one of the deadliest school massacres in U.S. history.    

But what has Pennsylvania learned about school safety in the following two decades? 

“Reading, writing and ‘arithmetic,” in many cases these days, have been replaced with “detectors, cameras, and officers” as the watchwords of our public education system.

State lawmakers say school security is a priority, and it is expensive — money that is tough to come by.

“Last year, we put in over $70 million into our ‘safe schools grants’ that go for resource officers, police officers, getting those professionals into our schools,” said State Senator John Yudichak.

Yudichak said state funding helps school districts and intermediate units decide what stepped up security measures they choose to implement.  

“They do an assessment whether or not they’re doing physical things for our schools or whether it’s about training — the training of teachers and administrators, bringing in school resources officer or police officers,” he said.  

Lawmakers and the Wolf administration say security steps should not be directed from Harrisburg.   

“I don’t think our role is to try and manage every school district. What we want to do is ensure that the school districts have the resources and that they understand what their strengths and weaknesses are in their schools,” said Marcus Brown, Pennsylvania’s director of homeland security  

And it’s no easy task when you consider there are about 500 school districts in the Commonwealth.  

Communication among those districts and Harrisburg is a key factor in keeping our schools safe.

“We’ve also done surveys among the schools to sort of determine what their threat concerns are for each different school. Then, we put out best practices to all of them,” said Secretary Brown.  

That applies to threats found on bathroom mirrors, to, and in recent times, those made through social media.

Is that enough? Some say no.   

“In my opinion, we are not doing enough on the mental health side, and that’s the primary source of this issue,” noted Senator Yudicak.  

Yudichak and other lawmakers say spotting the signs of a student who may be struggling with mental health issues that could lead to violence must become a priority.  

“We need to do more to bring more counselors in our schools to our nonprofits to our counties. We need to do more to invest in mental health and we are not doing enough in my opinion. I think it’s one of the big issues is that the resources available to the mental health field and is still very limited,” said Dr. Matthew Berger, a Lackawanna County psychiatrist.

Cuts to mental health budgets are frequently the first to be made.

Berger said the shooters often send signals that something just isn’t right.  

“These are kids who kind of get the feeling they are at risk. The kid’s a loner; he doesn’t have a lot of friends who may make some threats have violent fantasies,” he said. “I don’t think they just snap. There are warning signs. Maybe they have never been diagnosed or brought in for treatment but that doesn’t mean there weren’t warning signs that they were dealing with stress or life issues aggressive fantasies or depression or suicidal fantasies.”

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