This post is sponsored by First Defense Solutions.
In the wake of February’s grisly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, many people have started discussing school safety. While there can be a political slant to this discussion, Heidi Wysocki and First Defense Solutions wants to stay in the center and focus on how to make schools safer.
She’s approaching this topic at the public school district level but it’s equally relevant to private and charter schools. And, in case you didn’t know, charter schools in Texas are not held to the same level of security requirements as our Independent School Districts (ISDs).
When the Texas Legislature met last year, charter schools were on the brink of being included in the Education Code’s security requirements on Senate Bill 2078. The bill initially passed, but was eventually tabled and died in committee when a transgender bathroom clause was added at the last minute. Perhaps in 2019, charters will be re-addressed.
Regardless of whether that happens, we need to understand that the law on school security is intentionally broad. That also means that the law is the lowest common denominator. It has to be that way… What works for a district such as Plano ISD with over 70 campuses and 55,000+ students will not work – or may not be needed, let alone affordable – in a smaller district with only a few schools and few hundred students.
No matter the size of the town, no area has a lock on sanity and goodwill. For every person who’s endured the impact of a school shooting, not once did anyone say,
I always thought this would happen here.”
We always believe the monsters are somewhere else, at someone else’s door, but time and again we see it’s not the case. For every school in the country the question can’t be “IF.” It’s “WHEN.”
Some ideas to improve school safety have gained more traction than others, including in-room shelters, arming teachers, parents volunteering to patrol hallways, or installation of metal detectors to name a few. Although Heidi and the First Defense Solutions team can add their two cents about why these particular ideas aren’t ideal, realistic, or even workable in some cases, the biggest concern is what we’re not hearing.
- Where is the cry to attack the issue of school shootings at the source?
- Why are we not seeking that source?
- And how do we do even do it?
We need to get to the source of active shootings before the violence occurs. So where do we begin? We need to attack this issue holistically. If we picture an attack as a timeline, we have Before, During, and After. The greatest opportunity for change is in the Before, which is where First Defense Solutions focuses on training, planning, and preparing to stop violence before it starts.
Front 1: Training
No attack begins the day that it happens. It’s formed days, weeks, months, and even sometimes years earlier. That timeframe is a map to what will happen, and identifying the indicators is critical if we want to try to stop it.
Who better to help us identify these signs than parents? Parents should receive the same training as faculty and staff. By engaging parents, we grow our knowledge base outside of the school and improve communication. Communication is critical and it improves when we train everyone on topics like situational awareness and pre-attack indicators.
Establishing a common ground of plain language where we understand how to communicate better with each other helps everyone identify pre-attack indicators. Training should be an ongoing event in different formats so that it is relatable and engaging. Let’s forget checking the box that we completed the course. Instead, let’s walk away from the course with retrievable, applicable knowledge.
Front 2: Planning
Planning comes hand-in-hand with training. Continuity Management is a very “corporate” term for making sure that you have assessed risks, weighed their impact, thought about what you will do to mitigate, reduce or avoid it, and created some processes to help you do that.
As the training is implemented, processes created during the planning phase dovetail to create a working model. Heidi says,
Let me give you an example. The post-9/11 phrase “See Something, Say Something” is in heavy rotation again right now, but if you don’t know what you’re looking for and don’t know how to say it, to whom you should say it, or what they will do with that information, then we can’t get closer to the source.
Training should include clear direction on how to quantify pre-attack indicators along with guidance on what to do with that information. If done correctly, during training the planning team advises everyone on how this works and what to expect.”
Front 3: Armed Security
There are massive debates about arming teachers or having volunteers armed onsite and other similar concepts. In Texas, there is a program for Teacher Marshals, which are similar to Air Marshals in that they complete a course and are licensed to carry concealed weapons where the typical citizen may not.
The Teacher Marshal plan has been around for several years and may work well enough in some smaller towns that have a small police force or other parameters that make it the last and only option. The course requires 80 hours of training and some other standard tests.
How’s that parents? After only 80 hours of training, someone can carry a firearm on campus.
Would you take your child to a pediatrician who had 2 weeks of medical school and had never actually treated a patient? Having a firearm in the hands of anyone with 2 weeks of training and in most likelihood, having never shot a person (or been shot at) makes this a huge risk.
Everyone likes to believe they will be the hero. Everyone believes they’d run into the firefight. It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect, where we overestimate our ability to perform functions. This also applies to situations we’ve never actually faced. We want to believe we are better than we are, and watching movies where the hero always wins hasn’t helped. Heidi says,
The idea that ‘a good guy with a gun is equivalent to a bad guy with a gun‘ is false. One of them has already decided there is a low value for life, and assuming you’re the good guy, that’s not you. As the good guy, you’re starting out at a disadvantage because you want to live and you want those around you to live.
Add in the elements of surprise, shock, and panic, along with the burden of protecting others, and you’re almost definitely on the losing end of this battle. Even trained police officers sometimes freeze in these situations and they have far more years of experience, training, and preparing for these situations than most of us.”
It’s the rare jewel in the world that has the right demeanor, mindset, training and experience to carry a weapon around children, use it only when truly necessary, and run into that firefight. These are the people we need as onsite security. These are the people who are good enough to protect our kids.
“Better than nothing” is not acceptable and arming teachers is not the answer.
Not all schools will have access to the ideal security team. First Defense Solutions knows this because they recruit these officers and they know how hard they are to find. But there’s no justification not to include a robust training plan where we share knowledge with everyone who can help us find and stop trouble.
There’s no justification to not have documented processes and clear guidance on how we tackle a situation. There’s no excuse for parents not to be engaged.
- Physical barriers may slow down a firefight.
- More cameras may be helpful for the forensics team.
- Bulletproof glass may be useful if your shooter is outside the building, shooting in.
- Smoke bombs and stronger doors and metal detectors, and
- all of those other ideas may provide some sense of security…
But, they’re all short-sighted concepts that will fail to change much of anything, and they certainly do nothing to stop violence before it starts.
We need a thoughtful approach, attack on multiple fronts, and get everyone rowing the boat in the same direction if we’re ever going to make our schools safer. Although we have state laws giving us the lowest common denominator, where we are able to do more, we absolutely should.