A state instructor training educators to respond in school-shooting situations said Thursday that planning a response, practicing in advance and using whatever resources are available in such emergencies are keys to saving lives.
Participants in the first of five regional training events around Ohio watched a sometimes graphic and emotional slideshow presentation about warning signs missed and lessons learned in previous cases, including the Columbine and Virginia Tech tragedies and the deadly Chardon shooting last February that spurred the state to plan this training for educators. It ended with a tribute to victims of the December massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, an event that spurred a surge in interest in the state’s training.
More than 200 teachers, administrators and law enforcement officers registered for Thursday’s sessions in Columbus. Instructor James Burke of the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy told them to be aggressive about reporting troubling student behavior, practicing for an active shooter situation and making sure school staff and law enforcement have a similar understanding about how a response would work.
“It’s sad that we have to be here today, but it’s also the reality of the world we live in, and I think you need to be prepared for it, and our ultimate goal is to protect kids,” said Green Local Schools superintendent Michael Nutter. He attended with an administrator from each school in his Akron-area district and planned to take some of Burke’s suggestions back to his district’s safety committee.
Those tips ranged from simple preparedness steps, such as marking classroom numbers in windows to guide emergency responders, to ways to ensure students and staff aren’t stationary targets if there’s an active shooter. That could mean leaving through a back door or window, Burke said, or locking a room and silently hiding while preparing to fight back with whatever distractions can be found — bookcase barricades, coffee cup projectiles, fire extinguishers, anything at all.
“We have to try to slow them down,” he said. “We have to make it difficult.”
Response plans vary from district to district, but a widespread lockdown isn’t necessarily the best choice, he said.
That last bit caught the attention of Paul LaRue, a high school history teacher from the rural Washington Court House district who said he hadn’t really considered all the options Burke presented.
“I thought lockdown was kind of like the ultimate answer,” said LaRue, who planned to practice barricading his door with a nearby bookcase during the next drill. He also planned to review the suggestions Burke had made for identifying troubled students before they turn to violence, citing commonalities in the profiles of known shooters.
LaRue said the issue of school safety is one of the biggest changes he’s noticed since joining the district 28 years ago.
“It’s such a dramatic shift from ... the old days, when the doors were open and you didn’t really think about those things or you thought they happened someplace else, to realizing it can happen any place,” he said.
Attorney General Mike DeWine, who spoke at the event, said it’s prudent to train school staff because they “are truly the first responders” if there’s an armed intruder. He said he expects interest in the training to increase as word about it spreads.
DeWine’s office, in partnership with the Department of Education, is planning more regional training events in Cincinnati, Chauncey, Toledo and Valley View over the next few weeks. DeWine said his office also is open to providing training at individual districts’ teacher training days if requested.
He reiterated the training doesn’t cover whether school staff should be armed, a decision he believes should be left to local school boards.