The Best Way to Prepare for School Shootings is to Reduce the Chances They’ll Happen at All

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I participated in yet another active shooter drill at my school this week.

 

“Death to the infidels!” shouted Mr. O’Grady, one of my fellow teachers, as he stormed the classroom with a Nerf blaster rifle.

 

I had stuffed myself under a table in another teacher’s reading nook.

 

But it did no good.

 

One of the soft yellow balls came sproinging out of the gun and bounced off the carpet into my groin.

 

Then someone blew a whistle and the scenario was over.

 

The classroom full of teachers collected ourselves from behind overturned tables and under desks before uncertainly getting to our feet.

 

“Who got hit?” asked the principal as he poked his head into the room.

 

A flurry of hands went up including mine.

 

The students had been dismissed about an hour earlier. The body count was made up entirely of faculty and staff – teachers, administrators, security guards, substitutes, lunch ladies, etc.

 

The lesson we were supposed to take away from the activity was that hiding was a losing strategy.

 

“Do something,” one of the police officers conducting the drill said.

 

They wanted us to swarm the shooter, throw things at him (Nerf balls in our scenario) or make a run for it. Anything but simply staying put and being sitting ducks.

 

It made me wonder why our lawmakers don’t heed the same advice.

 

Do something?

 

Yeah. Why doesn’t Harrisburg do something? Why doesn’t Washington?

 

That’s where you can make a real difference to keep our schools safe.

 

Instead of making the world safer for our kids, we’re trying to lock them up in a castle and keep the violence out.

 

But it’s impossible. You can’t keep out human nature.

 

The same things that cause shooters to enter the school and go on a killing spree are already in our classrooms.

 

O’Grady may have imagined he was a member of Al-Qaeda as he pretended to blow his co-workers away, but if a shooter ever enters our building, he’s more likely to be a co-worker, parent or student.

 

We don’t need more ways to keep them out. We CAN’T keep them out and still do our jobs!

 

All we can do is try to alleviate the pressure, to counsel mental distress, heal physical trauma, guard against societal hurts.

 

And if that doesn’t work, we can lower the stakes and limit the amount of damage done.

 

Turning the school into a prison will not help. Turning teachers into guards (armed or otherwise) will not solve anything.

 

Back in 1999 in the wake of the Columbine school shooting, the Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education warned against all the things we’re doing now – police officers in the schools, metal detectors, cameras, etc.

 

Instead, they advised us as follows:

 

“Specifically, Initiative findings suggest that [school] officials may wish to consider focusing their efforts to formulate strategies for preventing these attacks in two principal areas:

 

  • developing the capacity to pick up on and evaluate available or knowable information that might indicate that there is a risk of a targeted school attack; and,

 

  • employing the results of these risk evaluations or “threat assessments” in developing strategies to prevent potential school attacks from occurring.”

 

 

That means prevention over disaster prepping. Homeland Security and education officials wanted us to pay close attention to our students, their needs and their struggles.

 

We keep our schools safe by looking to the humans in them and not new ways to barricade the building or watch the whole disaster unfold on closed circuit TV.

 

The fact is that our schools are actually much safer than the communities that support them. Numerous studies have concluded that students are more secure in school than on the streets or even in their own homes.

 

If we want to make the schools safer, we need to make the communities safer.

 

And, no, I’m not just talking about high poverty neighborhoods populated mostly by people of color. I mean everywhere – in our society, itself.

 

There are too many guns out there. We have more firearms than people!

 

According to the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Americans now own 40 per cent of all guns in the world – more than the next 25 countries combined. And with every mass shooting and the hysteria trumped up by gun manufacturers with each surge in profits, that number continues to climb.

 

You can do whatever you want to the schools, but you’ll never increase safety until you deal with THAT problem.

 

The fact is countries with more guns have more gun deaths. States and Countries with more rigorous gun control have fewer gun deaths.

 

(If you doubt it, see Florida’s “The Geography of Gun Deaths,” and a 2016 review of 130 studies in 10 countries, published in Epidemiologic Reviews.)

 

We need sane, sensible gun regulations. We need government buyback programs. And we need to smash the NRA’s stranglehold on our political process.

 

These ridiculous safety drills are simply whistling in the dark.

 

They’re not harmless. They’re HARMFUL.

 

They actually make our schools less safe.

 

Metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and resource officers do not create safer schools. According to a study released by the National Association of School Psychologists :

 

“There is no clear research evidence that the use of metal detectors, security cameras, or guards in schools is effective in preventing school violence (Addington, 2009; Borum, Cornell, Modzeleski, & Jimerson, 2010; Casella, 2006; Garcia, 2003). In fact, research has shown that their presence negatively impacts students’ perceptions of safety and even increases fear among some students (Bachman, Randolph, & Brown, 2011; Schreck & Miller, 2003). In addition, studies suggest that restrictive school security measures have the potential to harm school learning environments (Beger, 2003; Phaneuf, 2009).”

 

At this week’s active shooter drill in my school, one of the student aides asked the principal when he thought the state would be arming teachers.

 

For him, it wasn’t a matter of if. It was a matter of when.

 

And if you listen to the cowardly garbage spewing out of our lawmakers mouths, you can certainly understand why he believes that.

 

However, arming teachers or even adding more armed police to the school will not make our classrooms more secure.

 

There is overwhelming evidence that it will do just the opposite.

 

As Melinda Wenner Moyer reports in Scientific American, “guns are associated with an increased risk for violence and homicide”—but not with greater safety.

 

Just look at the facts.

 

Security cameras were present at Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech. They didn’t stop anything from happening.

 

Armed resource officers were present at Columbine and Parkland. That didn’t stop anything from happening.

 

All these measures do is criminalize our students. It turns them from prospective learners into would-be prison inmates – and as we know, our prisons are not exactly the safest places to be.

 

“How’d I do?” asked Mr. O’Grady, my co-worker who had posed as the shooter during the last scenario.

 

“You shot me in the dick,” I said.

 

He laughed. And I laughed.

 

But it was the kind of laugh that dies in your throat and leaves a taste of ashes.

 

School safety is a joke in 2018. Not because of what teachers and districts are doing.

 

When society fails to meet its obligations – as it does time-and-again – it’s our schools that continually step up to take the slack.

 

The problem is that we can’t even pretend to do this one on our own.

 

We can’t keep the schools safe if you won’t do anything about the community – if you won’t reduce poverty, violence and trauma.

 

We can’t keep the schools safe, if you won’t do something about the river of guns that flow through our nation like a high caliber Mississippi.

 

Do something?

 

Take your own advice, America.


 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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Life or Death Professional Development

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You know what’s funny about school shootings?

It’s the only time the public still universally loves teachers.

We don’t trust them with collective bargaining rights. We don’t think they deserve a decent salary. Heck! We don’t even trust their judgement to design their own teaching standards, lead their own classrooms or be evaluated by their own principals!

But when armed assailants show up at school, then we think teachers are just great.

When angry teens arrive rifles strapped to their trench-coated backs, carrying duffel bags full of ammunition – then teachers are heroes.

I guess you can’t standardize your way past a bullet.

My school district had an outstanding training today. Administration brought in current and retired FBI agents, local law enforcement and EMTs to practice active shooter drills with the teachers.

We spent the morning learning about common factors between various school shootings, what to look for to stop the violence before it even begins and what strategies we should consider if we’re ever in such a situation.

This may sound a bit vague but the trainers asked us specifically not to give away the details. They fear if too much of this becomes common knowledge, mass shooters will better be able to prepare for their killings. So in deference to law enforcement, I’m not going to get into any specifics that might help a shooter increase his body count.

The afternoon was taken up with various scenarios. We were split into groups and given roles to play as a law enforcement officer took on the role of a school shooter.

The officer had a gun filled with blanks. We were given the opportunity to hear what it sounds like to have a gun go off in our building at various distances. It certainly wasn’t what I expected but gave us an excellent point of reference in case the real thing ever happened.

Probably the most frightening scenarios were in our own classrooms. I was sent to the room where I teach with a group of teachers who would play the role of students. Then we practiced locking down.

When the announcement was made, I locked my door, had the “students” turn over the desks for cover and turned off the light. One of the “students” was an army veteran so he tied his leather belt to the doorknob making it harder to open.

We heard the shooter walking the halls, screaming at others, even knocking on our door and trying unsuccessfully to get inside.

However, in the very next room, he broke in causing real damage to the door. He made the teachers kneel on the ground and asked them if they had children, if they wanted to live before shooting them with blanks.

When it was over, their faces were bloodless and scared.

During another scenario, I was only able to save one student in my room before the shooter arrived. I looked right at the shooter before slamming my door shut. There was just no time to do more.

The two of us hid along the wall with the lights out. We even tried our army friend’s belt trick but it did no good. The shooter broke through the door breaking the belt. I had my chair raised above my head and brought it down gently on his gun arm as he entered the room.

He turned to me and said “that was a good idea,” before shooting me. In my defense, had this been real and not practice, I would have brought the chair down with much more force. But dead I remained until police swept the room and the scenario ended.

A friend of mine in another room said the shooter entered her classroom and asked, “Who’s the teacher!?” My friend rose from the floor and said it was her. He took her outside of the room at gun point, turned her around and told her to run. She said she tried to follow his directions but her legs barely obeyed her. She doesn’t remember if he shot her.

Others froze in the halls against lockers or on the floor becoming easy targets as the shooter approached.

At one point he yelled, “Where’s the principal!?” Another friend calmly gave him directions how to get to the office. “Just go out these doors, make a left…” But by then the principal had already run from the building. She admitted to feeling horrible after she was safe.

We did a few other scenarios where the shooter approached us in areas where there was much less cover and you had to decide immediately what to do, where to go. It became something of a mad dash. One of the teachers even fell and broke her nose. She was treated on the scene by EMTs and taken to the hospital.

All-in-all, it was a thoughtful and fascinating training. It’s unfortunate we need to take the time away from academic concerns, but it is necessary. Our trainers called it “fear inoculation.” They said it would help us be less frightened, more able to act if the real thing ever were to happen.

The irony is that our public schools ARE safe – safer even than our homes. You have a better chance of being struck by lightening than you do being involved in a mass shooting. But these things do happen and it’s best to be prepared.

It certainly brought home the experience for me. I know what I’d do. I’d protect my students with my last breath. I think most teachers would. It’s who we are.

We don’t get into teaching for the salary or tenure. We certainly don’t do it for the standardization, dwindling autonomy, and fading professional regard.

We do it for the children.


I was honored to have this article featured on Freshly Pressed.