Colorado school reaches out through the Internet

Last month’s massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., exposed a dark
side of the Internet.


Two heavily armed students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, killed 12 students and a
teacher, then apparently shot themselves to death, police said. The teen-agers had posted
violent images and slogans on the Internet, and Harris’ Web site includes detailed
instructions for making bombs.


But in the aftermath of the tragedy, the deadliest school shooting in American history,
school officials are reinforcing the Internet’s positive uses.


Within hours of the lunchtime rampage on April 20, Ron Dries, Internet manager of
Colorado’s Jefferson County Public Schools, posted a Web site where students and
families could get the latest information on the victims’ status and on school
closings.


The site at jeffco.k12.co.us informs survivors of important administrative details,
such as the Colorado Motor Vehicles Department’s offer of free replacement
drivers’ licenses for Columbine students and staff who left personal belongings when
they escaped the school.


Visitors can send e-mail condolences by clicking on an e-mail icon marked Col-umbine
Crisis. Many visitors sent poems, songs and digital photos, which Dries said could be
published in a book. Three retired teachers volunteered to read the e-mail, he said.


Working with John Adsit, a webmaster for the county’s Instructional Services
Department, Dries has been updating the site continually as details about the tragedy
become available. Dries posts press releases from the Communications Department,
transcripts of speeches at memorial services, digital photos he took of the services, and
where to buy copies of the “Friend of Mine—Columbine” CD, which was written
and performed by Jonathan and Stephen Cohen, Columbine students.


Although Dries does not count individual visits to the site, a network traffic monitor
revealed a large spike in incoming Internet traffic since April 20.


The Jefferson County Public School system has had its own Internet service since 1995,
Dries said. All the county’s schools are connected via T1 lines or a frame relay
network over 2500 series routers from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., to a central
administrative complex.


The county built its intranet in 1995 with a Sun Microsystems Sparc 5 server, which is
still in use, Dries said. The county later added two Sun UltraSparc II servers and one
UltraSparc server.


The school system uses Netscape SuiteSpot products for its enterprise, messaging and
calendar servers, Dries said. Almost every school in the county, including Columbine, has
its own webmaster, he said. The school system trains students and staff to use Netscape
Page Composer, but Dries codes most of the county Web pages in Hypertext Markup Language.


“We’re very conscious of bandwidth conservation,” Dries said. “We
try to keep it as simple as possible.”


The larger schools in the county have their own LANs, Dries said. And the county had no
shortage of filtering software to keep the dark side of the Internet at bay, he said. The
county used a content filtering server from N2H2 of Seattle, and the county’s own
homegrown proxy server that runs on a Linux platform from Red Hat Software Inc. of
Research Triangle Park, N.C.


Columbine High School’s Internet server was up and running throughout much of the
ordeal. The school’s own site, at www.columbine.net, posts six pages of e-mail
condolences.


The school webmaster, a Columbine student referred to on the site simply as Yoshi,
maintains the site with the help of Qadus, an Internet service provider in Boulder, Colo.


About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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