Are Schools Safer Post-Columbine?

With two foiled school shootings in the past week, the question remains whether students are any safer than they were before the violence at Columbine High School that left 13 dead and 25 injured seven years ago.

Those who work with schools to prevent violence say they get high marks for increasing awareness and reporting threats, but they note that schools face budget and time cuts that could make further safeguarding difficult.

"The best news is that there has been a change since Columbine by adults working with kids to change the mind-set that reporting incidents is not snitching," said Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, a school safety consulting firm. "It could be saving somebody's life, including their own. More and more students are coming forward," he said.

At the same time, Trump's organization has tracked 10 thwarted school violence plots since March 1 of this year, as well as 78 nonfatal school-related shootings, up from 52 during the entire 2004-05 school year and 68 in the 2003-04 school year.

"Even though we tend to see more incidents at this time of year, the spate of incidents since March 1 seems to be a lot," Trump said. "The good news is schools and law enforcement partner agencies are doing a better job at preventing these incidents. Any one of these incidents could have been the next Columbine if students hadn't reported [threats] and adults hadn't responded."

Two of those incidents include a middle school in North Pole, Alaska, where six students were arrested and nine others suspended Saturday for allegedly plotting to kill students and teachers with guns and knives. And another plot, in which five teens in Kansas were arrested for allegedly planning to shoot up their school on the Columbine anniversary, April 20, before details were discovered on the Web site MySpace.com

"The only thing that really scares me more than kids with a plot to cause harm to a school are adults who believe it couldn't happen here," he said. "Nobody wants to be alarmist ... but we've seen an uptick in school-associated violence over the past three years."

Little Money, Little Time

Jane Grady, assistant director of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said violence prevention got a lot of attention from school administrators and program funding from federal, state and local governments following Columbine.

"When things happen, right after Columbine, there was a lot of money for schools," Grady said. "As we move further away ... even some foundations, their priorities shift. That's just the way it is. Other things float to the top."

Some of the funding for such programs comes from the Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, which lost $100 million in congressional funding this year, said Bill Modzeleski, associate assistant deputy secretary for the office.

The state grants program was deemed ineffective and funds were being distrubuted too thinly, with about 60 percent of school districts receiving less than $10,000, he said. The cut money was put into a competitive discretionary grant program. The president's budget calls for the entire $330 million program to be cut in 2007.

Trump said the funding issue isn't just about broad-based security systems placed in schools but "anything from two-way radios to staff training."

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