Safe in the Classroom

A couple years back a good friend (she is a sergeant) and I went to her daughter’s grade school. We were there to talk to the teachers and help create a school strategy for dealing with an active shooter in the building. We started with a meeting with all the staff in one room and then went to each individual classroom to meet the teachers and to help them address their issues.

There had recently been a traumatic shooting like the recent one in Florida. Parents and teachers both are concerned about their children’s safety. In a setting where the children should only fear turning in late homework, they need to worry about crazed killers attacking them in the halls of their building.

This school already had reasonably good security. To enter you had to be buzzed in from a vestibule. If you were not on an approved list, you didn’t get in. They had dealt with custody issues in the past. The other exits were kept locked at all times. Of course, a determined individual could easily get into the building with either subterfuge or force. The staff realized this, and they were determined to improve the security of their facility.

I had the opportunity to speak with each of the schoolteachers and staff. They ran the gamut from extreme liberal to extreme conservative in their ideas on the active shooter problem. Some believed they could talk to the shooter and convince him to leave or give up. Others wished they could keep their own shotguns in the classroom. There were enough in the middle who believed there might be other ways to protect their charges.

Thanks to my friend, each room was equipped with two items to help keep a gunman from entering the room and harming anyone. Each room had a wood door wedge for each door. In the event of a gunman shooting in the building the first thing the teacher would do is jam the wedge under the door. While that might not prevent entry, it would slow down an offender.

We demonstrated how hard they needed to jam the wedge to be effective. A light tap wouldn’t do the job, it had to be hammered in by kicking it. The wedges would be kept immediately adjacent to the doors so there would be no need to look for them in the middle of an attack.

The second part of the plan was each room had a brick. I suggested they paint it some bright color. Each room had tall windows. The plan was to move the children away from the window and then have the teacher throw the brick through the window. After knocking the broken glass out of the way with the room’s broomstick or with a chair the children would exit the building and run to their fire drill assembly location. The teachers would then lead them farther away until they felt safe.

It was up to the teachers to practice and fine-tune this plan. We had other ideas, but the school wasn’t open to further security at that point. At least they saw the need to provide what they did.

Meeting with the teachers we found that some would probably be the take-charge kind you want with your kid when it hits the fan. Others would probably get people killed. That will always be the case. There were some who loved the idea of using the brick to bash in a gunman’s head and others were visibly shaken by the mere mention of an active shooter in the building.

We did our best to impress upon these teachers the need to keep the bad guy away from the children. Get them safe and then get them out. No plan is perfect but given what we were able to work with I believe this was the best plan. Were there other things I think the school should have done? Of course, but you work with the tools you have.

Today I saw an advertisement for a company that provides devices to keep the classroom door closed. One slid under the door and when extended prevented the door from opening. Another device went over the automatic door closer and prevented it from opening. A third prevented the lever handle on the door from turning. Each will probably do a better job than our wedge and brick plan. Problem was, they didn’t exist a couple years back and I’m sure they are a bit more expensive than wood wedges.

There was some debate about the bricks. Questions were raised about the strength of the windows. Would the bricks work? There was a chance the brick might fail. We discussed that with the teachers. We brought up other alternatives they might have in the room, a hammer, a dumbbell, a baseball bat. Moreover, we told them they needed to be creative when it came down to it. I could tell a few had a glimmer of an idea. Of course, we weren’t allowed to test to see the effectiveness of the brick. We also warned them to stay back from the glass when it broke so they don’t get cut.

As a first responder, you may have had active shooter training. As a parent, it would be wise to go to your children’s school and see what plans they have. Offer your experience. Don’t be surprised if they don’t want your help. Make sure your kids know what to do until the “experts” can figure out who is to blame for these shootings.

As of this morning, I saw blame laid on God, lack of God, guns, lack of guns, psychotropic drugs, the school, the FBI, the kids, and the parents, but not once did I see anyone blame the gunman. Until then make sure you do your best to keep your kids safe by taking an active interest in their school’s safety plans.

As always, your comments are welcome and feel free to share the article if you liked it.

Stay safe, run low and zigzag,

– Robert Weisskopf