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Cepeda: Training teachers to fight back

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Esther J. Cepeda
October 5, 2013

CHICAGO -- Every once in a while, horrifying violence rocks our national sense of school campus innocence. It’s cold comfort, but chances are our local school’s staff has been trained to respond in the most effective manner should the unimaginable occur.

 As an observer of education trends, I take this for granted. But to people who don’t understand the level of preparedness that schools now practice, proposed laws protecting the teachers and staff who have to execute emergency protocols can be alarming and confusing.

 Last week a reader sent me an article about an Indiana proposal to expand the “castle doctrine” law—aka, that state’s “stand your ground” law—to school grounds in order to protect any person who might resort to deadly force in order to prevent a school massacre.

 She snapped at me when I suggested that such a topic at least merited a level-headed conversation.

 We are 14 years since Columbine, the deadliest high school shooting in history. Whatever guidance or training you imagine today’s school personnel get to deal with emergency lockdown situations, multiply it by 10.

 Three years ago, the staff of a suburban high school district northwest of Chicago used a day when the students were not in attendance to stage a fully immersive emergency drill focusing on mass casualties.

 In concert with the local police department, some role-played educators while others acted as fleeing, bleeding or merely hysterical victims swarmed by emergency response personnel in a mock worst-case scenario.

 Fast forward to this past August, only a few months removed from the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn.

 On an “in-service” day for teachers to get much-needed “professional development,” this same school—located in a town ranked at the middle of a list of the “Top 100 Safest Cities in the U.S.”—taught its teachers and staff how to take down an armed intruder.

 The educators were taught the difference between a revolver and a semi-automatic handgun and how to properly grab each of these types of weapons away from an assailant in order to minimize the potential carnage.

 Techniques for rushing a shooter were demonstrated individually and in groups. Makeshift weapons available in average classrooms, such as fire extinguishers, were identified.

 That’s right, we’re past simply running and hiding.

 A few years ago the conventional wisdom was to lock the classroom door, turn out the lights and try to keep out of the sight of a potential shooter. Today educators from California to Illinois and beyond are increasingly being taught to “Run. Hide. Fight.” in order to have the best chances of getting out with the most survivors in an “active shooter event.”

 The new best-practice is noted in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s “Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans,” which says that after trying to run or hide, a third option is to “incapacitate the shooter to survive and protect others from harm.”

 According to a popular training video shared in school prep sessions and posted on YouTube by Ready Houston, a project of the Houston Urban Area Security Initiative Community Preparedness Committee, you need to be prepared for the worst—and your survival depends on whether you have a plan.

 Of course, the best option is to run or hide if at all possible. But, the video says, if your life is at risk, “Fight, act with aggression, improvise weapons, disarm [the shooter] and commit to taking the shooter down no matter what.”

 During their full day of training, the Chicago area school’s staff was also taught how to stop hemorrhaging of both head and extremity wounds with the so-called Israeli bandage, and other first aid techniques. Because, as the video warns, “The first-responders on the scene are not there to evacuate or tend to the injured. They are well-trained and are there to stop the shooter.”

 Knowing that your school’s employees could have received such training might make you feel more confident about your children’s daytime safety or it may turn your stomach.

 But if FEMA’s numbers—34 percent of 84 active shooter events between 2000 and 2010 involved schools—continue to climb and more educators get trained to go beyond avoiding confrontation, it’s reasonable to at least debate whether to offer some legal refuge to those teachers and staff who make the decision to protect others from a perceived threat.

 Esther J. Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.



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