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Saturday, Feb 02 2013 10:00 PM

BETH LOZANO: Now that the guns have quieted, let the lawsuits begin

Now it's occurring in Taft. As seems to be the rule, the aftermath of a school shooting has arrived: the lawsuits.

The need to find someone to blame, other than the shooter himself, seems to inevitably lead to the school staff, some of whom "should have known" or should have seen "warning signs" -- a precognitive awareness that is always debated.

But what I have rarely seen addressed in the many discussions of school shootings is the long-term effect on the morale -- the spirit of a school's staff and students, when targeted by parental lawsuits following a shooting.

Years before the disaster at Columbine, and almost always forgotten in historical references to school shootings, there was a small Northern California high school hit by a gunman. He killed a teacher and several students, wounded numerous others, and held several classes hostage for hours. I taught there; my students were among the hostages.

At first, as is usual in such horrific tragedies, school and community came together, united in compassion and pain -- until the lawsuits began.

The finger pointing, directed at administrators, secretaries and some teachers, was crushing to us; we were a small staff, and prided ourselves on our community involvement, our nurturing of our students' minds and bodies (much as Taft Union High School no doubt does). Yet ugly anonymous phone calls to the school, bogus bomb threats, stares and glares followed many of us as the lawsuits stirred up anger, resentment and pain, month after month. We were not allowed to heal; each court date tore open our emotional scars, as well as those of our students and parents. Our confidence and enthusiasm for our jobs was in shreds. Some of us could barely function.

Believe me, because I lived it: The staff of any school hit by a shooter feels enormous guilt and pain, enough to satisfy the angriest of parents. Without outside pressure, it immediately begins to work on all protective and preventive measures it can enact. No lawsuit is needed to compel these results.

What, then, does suing these dedicated and suffering people accomplish? (And we do feel personally and individually targeted by the suits, no matter how general the wording of the lawsuit may be.)

The school's insurance is already paying the medical bills for the injured. And what price can be set on a human life? Is squeezing money from the district somehow going to enable it to place more protections around its students? Is suing the school somehow going to make its staff more capable of accurate, preventive predictions of student behavior? Will it help teachers to pull themselves together faster so that your children receive the finest, most focused, most caring instruction and attention after the disaster?

Such lawsuits prolong grief and accomplish very little else. The blame game is ugly, destructive and small-minded.

The killer from my previous school sits on death row, where he belongs. It was his plan, his guns and his actions that are to blame. Destroying school solidarity with the community -- that was accomplished not by him but by the lawsuits that followed his brutality.

Beth Lozano of Bakersfield is a retired Ridgeview High School senior English teacher.

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