Are School Districts Putting Students and Teachers in Danger?

School safety curriculums like Run, Hide, Fight teach as a last resort standing up to a gunman and fighting back, but are students and teachers really equipped to handle such actions?

by Jim McKay / May 23, 2019

In the wake of two school shootings that featured the heroism of students who put themselves in harm’s way to save others, the debate about the best tactics to prevent shootings and mitigate their effects continues.

Experts acknowledge that some students may be predisposed to such heroic actions, but is the teaching of these strategies, via curriculums such as Run, Hide, Fight and Alice (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate), is up for debate.

A 21-year-old died earlier this month thwarting a shooter at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. According to the Chicago Tribune, alert messages had advised students to practice Run, Hide, Fight. A week later, a Colorado high school student died attempting to disarm a gunman.

School districts across the country are trying to do whatever they can to protect their students, including adding metal detectors, barricades, cameras and teaching curriculums that include fighting back, albeit as a last resort.

“I’ve certainly heard a lot more about Run, Hide, Fight, since [those incidents] but it still doesn’t negate the fact that it was really designed and created for an adult setting,” said Curt Lavarello, executive director of the School Safety Advocacy Council.

He said those curriculums offer a one-size-fits-all training that doesn’t take into consideration the ages of the children or their capacity to handle such a responsibility. “In most cases, they’re training kids that may be in a special education class as opposed to a regular classroom, with the same instructions. I like to say, ‘Kids have a hard time deciding what to have for lunch, let alone how they are going to strategically plan an attack on a well-armed gunman.”

Lavarello, who spent 28 years in law enforcement, said there will always be people who will stand up to an active shooter, no matter the training. “But I think as for the liability of school districts to sit back and actually train students to go after and attack an armed gunman is ludicrous.“

The School Safety Advocacy Council does school safety assessments nationally and many districts across the country are teaching this type of strategy without first consulting legal council or checking the district’s insurance policies.

“The school district leadership becomes the acting parent, so to speak, while the child’s at school,” Lavarello said. “When you’re telling my child that if a kid walks in with a loaded AR-15 in the back of a classroom, we want you to be student No. 1 that rushes the gunman … I stand firmly against it.”

Michael Dorn is the executive director of Safe Havens International and has provided post-incident assistance for 17 active shooter and targeted shootings in K-12 schools and has always had concerns about how school staff and students apply the various options-based active shooter training concepts.

“While there have been multiple instances where these approaches have worked as intended, we have also seen instances where school staff and students have been shot when they attempted to confront people with guns who were not active shooters.”

Dorn says schools are less safe today than they were before Sandy Hook because of the emphasis on active shooter scenarios because it ignores other threats and because some of the training, such as Run, Hide, Fight, is not evidence based and not proven to work.

Lavarello said since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in February 2018, parents have become staunch advocates for school safety but not necessarily to the benefit of schools.

“Losing a child has to be the worst feeling for a parent,” Lavarello acknowledged. “However, the mere fact that because you lost a child doesn’t qualify you to be the school safety expert, and what we’ve seen after Parkland is not only are a lot of parents offering advice and strategy to school districts but they also have the ear of legislators and are driving legislation that may not be conducive to true school safety.”

He cited as an example a bill signed into law recently at allows Florida teachers to carry firearms with just 132 hours of training. “Let’s train our students to attack gunmen and let’s arm our teachers and let’s make sure we have walk-through metal detectors on schools because it works at airports,” he said. “Well, one’s a 24-hour-a-day business and one is a roughly 10-hour-a-day business.”

A big key is communication — having someone on campus, like a school resource officer, who can engage with the students and know what’s going on. Most often, potential shooters talk about what they are going to do.

He said barricades that lock down classrooms can be effective, but so can a locked door. The shooter in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting entered through unlocked doors but was deterred by locked ones. “The shooters are looking for easy targets,” Lavarello said. “It’s a simple thing, keep your doors locked.”

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