Defending Children: Teachers should explore options for effective resistance with the tools available
by Jeff Knox
As the new year dawns, just over a year after the atrocity at Sandy Hook, it's time to look at what's been done since that horror to add to the protection and defense of our children.
First, it’s important to recognize the fact that mass murder attacks on school children are extremely uncommon, and the odds of your or my children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews being directly involved are incredible small – probably in the neighborhood of 1 in 100 million in any given year – so you're more likely to win the PowerBall and MegaMillions lotteries – simultaneously – than to have a child involved in an attack like Sandy Hook or Columbine. Of course that's no comfort when tragedy does strike, and it's the possibility – regardless of how unlikely – which demands that steps be taken to reduce the odds even further.
It's clear that institutional lethargy, myopia, and political correctness have schools and their administrators virtually incapable of change. In the wake of the worst school massacre in decades, the response of school administrators around the country was to double-down on the same emergency response strategy that failed at Sandy Hook; the Hide and Hope strategy.
Teachers are instructed to close their classroom doors, gather children in a corner, and hold them there until the "lockdown" ends. Unfortunately, that's where the planning ends. There is rarely any planning for what exactly to do if the "bad guy" actually enters the room and starts hurting people.
Some have suggested throwing books and chairs, and running like crazy, but that's a pretty thin plan. Of course there has been much discussion of additional gun control laws – which even their ardent supporters admit wouldn't have prevented recent attacks, nor would they be likely to interfere with future atrocities.
Ending the ban on qualified faculty and staff members carrying or having access to firearms makes enormous sense, and while that step has been taken in a few localities, it is, politically, a bridge too far in the current environment of pervasive hoplophobia among educators and administrators in most places. The efficacy of having someone armed on school grounds proved out in the recent attack at Arapahoe High School in Colorado. That assault ended in less than a minute and a half when a School Resource Officer challenged the attacker. But School Resource Officers are expensive and it is a bad idea to rely on just one armed person. Remember, there was a School Resource Officer on duty at Columbine too.
It might not be possible to conquer the intransigent attitudes of most administrators, but at least concerned teachers can develop survival strategies for themselves and their charges. Since few classrooms in the US have locks on their doors, smart teachers have given thought to ways they could be barricaded. A plain rubber wedge doorstop can be surprisingly effective at slowing an aggressive entry. A piece of rope or parachute cord, or a simple device that binds between the door handle and the jamb are also options, but when it comes to defensive weapons, there is one item that is readily available in most schools and can be very effective at temporarily disabling, confusing, and blinding an attacker – a fire extinguisher.
My friend Jim Schults of Schults Media Relations in Colorado has been talking about this for years. And he's not the only one. Some have even gone so far as to develop techniques and training programs for the effective use of fire extinguishers as defensive weapons. The only thing that defines a weapon is the intent of the user. Even a gun is only a weapon if that is in the user's mind. If a person hasn't thought about how to block a door or what to use as a weapon, they are much more vulnerable than the person who has at least recognized the idea and run some scenarios in their head. Once that seed has been planted – and preferably fertilized with some role-playing and hands-on training – common items become useful, and otherwise helpless people find the means to save their own lives, and perhaps the lives of many others.
A standard, dry chemical fire extinguisher can fire a plume of white powder up to 20 feet, creating vision obstruction, and possibly an opportunity to escape or attack while an assailant is disoriented. At close ranges, the chemical compounds in a typical fire extinguisher can significantly impair vision and breathing, while being harmless to innocents in the vicinity. A fire extinguisher can also be a pretty substantial club. And what school administrator or parent could object to a teacher having a fire extinguisher in her classroom?
School security is a concern to everyone. Sandy Hook has made us all think about the unthinkable and, while I believe that the best course of action is to end the practice of barring trained and responsible people from possessing firearms on school grounds, I think it is prudent for teachers, administrators, and involved parents to explore options for effectively resisting with the tools available. The common fire extinguisher is one such tool.
What's the plan in your child's school?
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