Can Teachers Defend Themselves Against An Active Shooter? Maryland Is Going To Try

Originally published on February 21, 2019 1:42 pm

Just because districts choose not to arm teachers with guns doesn’t mean they intend for them to simply hide if an active shooter enters a school. Some Maryland school districts are taking steps to train teachers to defend themselves in other ways.

Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) officials call their new strategy for responding to active shooter threats a “lockdown with options.” The school district near Washington, D.C., is training teachers to not only hide in a classroom when an assailant arrives, but to also flee or fight.

The shootings last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, re-ignited a national debate about arming classroom teachers. At least 14 states allow teachers to carry concealed weapons in the classroom, according to Vice News.

Nationwide, more than 4.1 million students participated in at least one lockdown drill from 2017-2018, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

MCPS officials say they are trying to get ahead of the state and begin training schools on multiple ways to respond to active shootings. Last year, the state introduced the Safe to Learn Act of 2018. Through the legislation, the state committed millions to school safety measures, like an increased presence of school resource officers and training for all school staff. The law also mandated that all schools adopt a “developmentally appropriate” active shooter preparedness program.

Most districts plan a slow rollout of what the state is proposing, but officials in Montgomery County say they want to move faster.

“We don’t want to wait until it is regulation. That’s the direction we know we need to go in,” said Ed Clarke, the chief safety officer, for Montgomery County Public Schools. “There are different models… but they are all very similar, in that the situation will determine the appropriate response.”

MCPS say they worked with the police department to create their model, which gives students and teachers three options. Officials call the strategy, the Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events or CRASE under the “Avoid, Deny and Defend” method.

The first option, “Avoid,” trains students and teachers to barricade themselves inside a room, turn off lights, cover windows and remain silent, similar to past lockdown styles. The second option, called “Deny,” trains them to run away from the school building and off of school grounds with the guidance of an educator. The third, and more controversial option, trains teachers and staff to defend themselves against assailants. Within that part of the training, teachers learn to throw things to distract or injure the attacker.

“It may be where you throw a book or books at the subject,” explained Clarke. “It may be necessary if the staff is willing, or there may be students who are prepared enough, to grab the individual.”

School officials stress that the defense option should only be used as a last resort.

“They’re trained as educators. They are not public safety men and women. But what we are saying is, in that moment of very dire life circumstances we all need make a decision,” said Clarke. “We are just there to provide them with guidance and direction to support them in those situations.”

Clarke likens the practices to fire drills, saying that although the chances of a fire breaking out in a school is unlikely, he wants faculty and students to be prepared. Officials have already gone through the first round of lessons in high schools and are now introducing the method to middle and elementary schools.

Students haven’t actually practiced the drills yet, but officials plan to introduce drills before the end of the school year.

Some students, however, say they aren’t confident in the new methods the district is introducing.

“While my teacher was presenting the slide show, no one was taking it seriously,” says Sophie Miller a senior at Wootton High School. “I was kind of disappointed. They could have prepared the slideshow better.”

Miller says the idea of improved training in response to active shooters makes her feel safer, but that the execution of the plans leaves her with doubts as to whether or not her she will be prepared if something actually happens.

Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life. This story was originally produced by WAMU.

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