Effecting Positive Change from Tragic Reenactment

Two students dressed as the shooters from Columbine, 1999, attended Kentucky High School for halloween and reenacted scenes from that horrific day; the students were suspended. Comments on the report vary between praise and condemnation for the suspension. One comment called for the parents of the students to face criminal charges. Other comments called the actions of the school overreach, lacking specific reasoning for the suspension – admitting that the costumes were in poor taste.

Reacting to the reenacted Columbine shooting with a suspension and a statement, the school could have done more to manage and effect positive change. 

Two students dressed as the shooters from Columbine, 1999, attended Kentucky High School for Halloween and reenacted scenes from that horrific day; the students were suspended. Comments on the report vary between praise and condemnation for the suspension. One comment called for the parents of the students to face criminal charges. Other comments called the actions of the school overreach, lacking specific reasoning for the suspension – admitting that the costumes were in poor taste. 

The school additionally released a statement, as reported by Joyce (2018), “”We take the situation very seriously and our personnel are continuing to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding this matter,” Stephens said in a statement. “The students are currently suspended.”” 

This situation, from a public relations perspective, missed the mark. Releasing a statement is one-way communication that leaves the audience without a method of creating dialogue. That is all that the school did. This is shown by observing the comments in the article (Joyce, 2018); people responding to the report clearly needed an opportunity to speak their mind and the school missed a teachable moment. The school could have explained the reasoning for the suspension, Joyce (2018), gives none. Instead, a community meeting or town-hall may have been a valuable step to take. School shootings have long been a worrisome problem in the field of education and there is likely a community member that is apathetic to the topic.  

Kowalski (20011, p. 14 – 16) identities several goals of PR inside of education; three of these goals “encouraging open political communication,” “enhancing the image of the school district,” and “managing information” could have been served with a communication that fostered open-dialogue. There were clearly people upset with the restriction of the students, the school could have addressed freedom of speech in their communications about the incident and why reenacting the violence of an historic school-shooting would be restricted. Stapelton and Murphy (2018) reported on a shooting that resulted in the deaths of two students and the injury of 18 others, from January of 2018, just ten months earlier. The school could have used this halloween incident and suspension to improve the image of the district by promoting school safety. Creating a forum for open dialogue would have helped the school to manage the information and explain the reasoning with the community. 

Joyce, K. (2018). Two Kentucky High School Girls Suspended After Dressing Up As Columbine Shooters for Halloween. Retrieved from https://www.foxnews.com/us/2-kentucky-high-school-girls-suspended-after-dressing-up-as-columbine-shooters-for-halloween

Kowalski, T. J. (2011). Public relations in schools (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education. 

Yan, H., Stapleton, A., & Murphy, P. (2018, January 24). Kentucky school shooting: 2 students killed, 18 injured. Retrieved December 28, 2020, from https://edition.cnn.com/2018/01/23/us/kentucky-high-school-shooting/index.html

Author: David Orace Kelly

International Teacher - Arts and Education Leader

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