Education Week - April 11, 2018 - 14
After a School Shooting, Leaders Must 'Redefine' Normal
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
unimaginable violence in the haven
of a school, the grim reality that
this can happen in any school, any
district, any community, is forcing
some education leaders to write a
tragedy playbook for their peers.
Joseph Erardi, the former superintendent of the Newtown, Conn.,
school district, where 20 1st graders
and 6 staff members were killed in a
mass shooting in 2012, oversaw the
rebuilding of the new Sandy Hook
Elementary School after he arrived
He's now working with a national
K-12 administrators' group to create
a guidebook on preparing for and responding to crises such as shootings
and fatal bus accidents.
"You have to have a plan ... because this is such a regular occurrence now," said Daniel Domenech,
the executive director of AASA, the
School Superintendents Association.
Without a roadmap, principals
and superintendents lean on their
peers with first-hand experience.
For George Roberts, who was the
principal of Perry Hall High School
in Baltimore County, Md., when a
student started shooting in the cafeteria on the first day of school in
August 2012 and injured another
student, that person was Bill Bond.
Bond had been the principal at
Heath High School in West Paducah, Ky., where a 14-year-old student killed three girls and injured
five other students after opening
fire on a prayer group in December
At that time-two years before
Columbine-there weren't many
K-12 leaders who'd experienced
such devastating loss and trauma
in their schools.
Bond, who retired in 2000 after
the last class of students who'd
been at the school during the
shooting had graduated, became
a go-to source of consolation and
"One of the most powerful things
[Bond] said to me was that you need
to allow the community to help. You
need to allow the community to offer
support," said Roberts, who now
works as a principal supervisor in
the Baltimore County school system.
Leaning on Peers
Taking Bond's advice to heart,
Roberts said he tried to respond to
every call or email as soon as possible. He catalogued calls, letters,
and offers to help.
That meticulous record-keeping
led Roberts to later spearhead a
project that would help the school
community with the healing process: He worked with a Baltimore
artist whom a community member
had recommended to paint a mural
in the cafeteria where the shooting
As part of the exercise, every student who was in the cafeteria on the
day of the shooting dipped their hand
in gray paint to spell out L-O-V-E.
But part of the benefit of connecting with Bond was having someone
to talk to who knew exactly what he
was dealing with, Roberts said.
DeAngelis, the former Columbine
principal, finds himself in a similar
role, making and receiving calls to
and from principals and superintendents after many school shootings.
He said he has been communicating with the principal at
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High
School in Parkland, Fla., and
high-level leaders in the Broward
County school system, where the
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community is coping with the aftermath of the Feb. 14 shooting
that killed 17 students and staff
and wounded 17 others.
"There's going to be ups and
downs, and there are going to be
good days, and all of a sudden something happens and your community
once again is thrown into turmoil or
re-traumatized," he said.
Nearly two decades after the
shootings at Columbine, things
aren't exactly normal, said DeAngelis, who retired as principal of the
school in 2014, after students who
were in elementary grades at the
time of the shooting graduated from
Students who were at the high
school in 1999 are now in their
mid- to late 30s, and some still call
DeAngelis whenever a school shooting occurs.
Besides the emotional support, superintendents and principals who've
experienced shootings provide practical advice too: when and how to
reopen, how to beef up security to
make people feel safe, and how to
navigate the delicate balance of
working through grief and mourning and returning to the normal
business of school, like class projects, sports, and prom.
Reliving the Trauma
The advice can include simple
steps or detailed plans.
One of the things DeAngelis
learned is that schools should
avoid balloons when students first
return. After the shooting, parents
created an archway of balloons to
welcome students to their temporary school home. But the balloons
started popping, and students dove
for cover, he said.
That "was an eye-opener for me,
that there were certain triggers," he
At Columbine, lunch menus were
changed to avoid serving what students were eating that day in the
cafeteria when the shooting began,
Teachers made adjustments to
class lessons, including, in some
cases, avoiding videos that included gunshots or war footage, he
At Stoneman Douglas, triggers
may include the sound of the fire
alarm, which went off around the
time of February's shooting.
"A lot of it is trial and error, and
you try to do the best that you can,"
he said, "and you reach out."
School leaders, who flood their
schools with mental health workers and counselors in the immediate aftermath of a shooting, must
be ready to deploy those resources
again in the event of a shooting elsewhere.
That was the case in February in
Aztec, N.M., where students and
faculty still raw with grief from a
December shooting that killed two
students, grew more anxious after
learning about the Parkland attack,
Principal Warman Hall said.
Hall is reluctant to give advice to
his peers, but he feels certain that
prior preparation helped minimize
the loss of life.
His rural school district holds
regular exercises with local emergency responders to practice for
various scenarios, including adverse
weather events and active-shooter
On at least one of those occasions,
Hall's team had to respond to a simulated active-shooter, he said. Those
exercises helped with the school's
quick response in December, he said.
"None of us feel that we are experts," Hall said. "We did not do everything right that day, and there
are circumstances out of your control. We lost two precious lives that
we are still grappling with as a
He said he encourages schools
and districts to forge a healthy
working relationship with their
local emergency management orga-
Frank DeAngelis was principal
of Columbine High School
during the 1999 mass shooting
there. He retired in 2014. Other
leaders often seek his advice
in the wake of shootings in
There's going to be
ups and downs,
and there are going
to be good days,
happens and your
again is thrown
into turmoil or
Former principal, Columbine