Redefining the New Normal
- By Ralph C. Jensen
- Oct 01, 2013
Frank DeAngelis has given his all to the students
and community of Columbine High
School. Now, 14 years after the tragic shooting,
DeAngelis is retiring as school principal.
These past years haven’t been all that easy, though.
DeAngelis and many others survive on a daily basis,
often suffering from survivors’ guilt from the April 20,
On the morning of the shooting, DeAngelis was in
his office. He led about 20 students to safety and survived
with no apparent physical injuries. He suffers,
however, from anxiety attacks so severe that they feel
like heart attacks; relentless anxiety that contributed
to the end of his 17-year marriage.
“Anyone who walked back in that building at Columbine
High School—any teacher, student, parent—
had to relive that day, day after day, as a constant reminder,”
DeAngelis said. “It took a lot of courage.
We had to redefine what normal is.”
Two days after the shooting, the principal went to
visit his pastor seeking answers and has since, for more
than a decade, heeded the advice of his pastor, who
said, “Frank, there’s a reason you did not die that day.
You have a cause. You need to rebuild that community.”
I have to wonder why DeAngelis stayed at Columbine,
but I quickly realize that in heeding his pastor’s
advice, he had made a commitment to his students.
He vowed to stay at his job until those students who
were in kindergarten at the time of the shooting had
graduated from Columbine. Those students graduated
Healing and mending continues within the Columbine
community, but retirement doesn’t take the sting
out of those horrific events. On a crusade, DeAngelis
has helped raise awareness of warning signs of violence
in high school students. This year, he was named
Colorado Principal of the Year by the Colorado Association
of School Executives.
During the past 12 years, the Columbine community
also helped others in need as school violence
became an epidemic. DeAngelis, knowing the pain
events such as this cause, helped comfort and boost
morale at area schools, including Deer Creek Middle
School, where a gunman wounded two youth. Educator
David Benke tackled the shooter, 32-year-old
Bruco Strongeagle Eastwood, and other staff held
him down until law enforcement arrived, 90 seconds
later. Two other shootings in the vicinity left a high
school student dead at Platte Canyon High School;
and two dead and two wounded at the Youth With A
DeAngelis has seen the evolution of school tragedy
and the instinct of educators to run toward the
shooter(s) in order to save their students. In response,
he has been instrumental in creating an active shooter
program for grades Pre-K—12, which includes teaching
staff how to survive during shooting instances.
Seeing success in his 34-year career at Columbine
as a teacher, coach and administrator, DeAngelis
would never take it for granted. Yet, his career has
been even more fulfilling as children affected by the
shooting chose to become teachers and guardians
of Columbine High School. These students turned
teachers have learned from DeAngelis’ personal code:
protector, leader and friend.
Since Columbine, there have been tragic events, large
and small. Even the slightest bullying event is a sore
spot in the education system, so much so that the largest
school district in Utah, the Alpine School District,
is stepping up its security on buses to protect students
This district’s buses carry about 21,000 students
more than 19,000 miles per day. The district saw fit to
invest nearly $100,000 on 48 of their 300 buses, equipping
them with Gatekeeper surveillance cameras.
These camera systems allow staff to see the door and
the driver as well as get a good look at the 50 students
on each bus, regardless of where they are sitting.
Time to Wake Up
Students have returned to school, but in the wake of
the Newtown shooting, local Massachusetts schools are
beefing up security. Districts have deployed new surveillance
cameras, locked more doors and staff is rethinking
safety strategy in order to tighten overall security.
Twenty school districts were surveyed in the Boston
area; 19 of them have added new security measures,
including new equipment or procedures at the
elementary level. In Salem, schools have given teachers
panic buttons that have a direct link to law enforcement
when pushed. In Walpole, schools have
been given six security cameras; and in Groton-Dunstable,
staff will be trained in active shooter response.
Obviously, schools are taking different approaches
to security, but they all share an understanding of
what is involved. Schools have not been ordered to
improve security, but districts have responded in their
own way according to concerns from parents, students
and teachers. The bottom line is that teachers
want to feel safe in their workplace; students deserve
to be safe while learning; and parents want to be able
to know that while their children are in school, they
aren’t fighting for their lives.
School security comes down to ownership, with
students, teachers and staff being the stakeholders,
and it’s our duty to keep them safe.
This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Security Today.