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School security increased for Columbine anniversary

Amid rumors of copycat violence, Hernando High adds security. Officials also expect more absences than usual.

By ROBERT KING

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 19, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- In schools across the land, April 20 has come to be known as Columbine Day.

In Hernando County high schools, last year's first anniversary of the shootings at the Colorado high school became an unofficial holiday.

Amid rumors of copycat violence, more than a third of Hernando County high school students stayed home. Typically, absences are at 10 percent or less. Schools around the United States reported similar absenteeism. Some called it a "sick out."

On the eve of Friday's second anniversary of Columbine, rumors are swirling once more, and high schools again expect more absences than usual.

At Hernando High School, where the rumors have been particularly rampant and where there was a bomb scare Tuesday, the school plans to post three extra police officers on campus.

Law enforcement agencies say they have found nothing to indicate any substance behind the rumors. Still, principal Elaine Sullivan said the school wanted extra security as a way to reassure parents and students that everyone will be safe.

Aside from the full-time deputy always stationed on campus, the school secured the services of two officers from the Brooksville Police Department. District officials also plan to move an officer from another campus to Hernando High.

No such precautions are planned at other schools, said Barry Crowley, the district's coordinator of safety and security. One thing they don't want is for kids to see the extra security, think violence is imminent and immediately head home.

"We just want to make the students feel comfortable," Crowley said.

Some recent events in and around Hernando High might be fueling the rumor mill.

On April 3, deputies arrested a 16-year-old student found with a gun in the school parking lot. Authorities said he had broken into two homes, stolen several guns and brought one of them to school.

That incident, which occurred the week before spring break, got kids talking, Sullivan said. Combined with the looming anniversary of the Columbine shootings, the rumors seemed to feed upon themselves, she said.

Finally, it didn't help that on Tuesday someone at Hernando High discovered a note with a handwritten message about a bomb. The school was evacuated and searched; nothing was found.

In their quest to keep kids in class, something is working in favor of the schools this year that acted against them last year.

In 2000, the Columbine anniversary fell on the day before spring break, when kids needed little incentive to stay in class. This year, spring break has already come and gone.

Still, it might not be enough to keep the students from staying home. "Kids are really creative," Sullivan said. "This would be an opportunity for some."

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