Board members in some Missouri school districts want staff to be armed with guns so they can fire back at potential future intruders. That’s why they are sending voluntary faculty members to a concealed-weapons training in the wake of multiple rampages – on school campuses and in other public areas – that have occurred within the past month.
A fee of $17,500 gets a district a 40-hour firearms training that lasts for five days for two staff members who spend time both inside a classroom and outside at the range firing pistols. Instructors at Shield Solutions in West Plains, Mo., teach participants how to handle firearms and tactical movement, as well as the history of modern, active shooters and how to apply a tourniquet, said Don Crowley, lead instructor and training supervisor. On the range, they position “innocent” targets in front of the “bad guys” for discretionary shooting lessons, he added.
“We know this isn’t a perfect fix,” Crowley told msnbc. “We want to level the playing field and give our school staffers a fighting chance to defend those innocent students.”
Volunteers must qualify at 90% or higher and pass a skills test to graduate from the program. They become employees of Shield Solutions and are required to attend an additional, minimum, 24-hour firearms training each year.
A gunman killed a student at Reynolds High School in Oregon on June 10. Two days before, a married couple opened fire at a pizzeria and Wal-Mart in Las Vegas, murdering two police officers and a civilian. There were similar incidents at Seattle Pacific University in Washington, the University of California Santa Barbara, and at Clark Street School in Wisconsin. And that’s just during the past month.
Some districts believe they need armed teachers inside academic buildings because the response from law enforcement takes too much time, a “legitimate” concern – especially for rural schools – if proven true, Paul Fennewald, special adviser for the Missouri Center for Education Safety, told msnbc. Time spent before the arrival of police officers typically equates to higher body count, he added.
At least 10 districts across the state have completed the training in the past 18 months since the program has been implemented, Crowley said. The company is currently working with multiple schools to develop contracts. Districts in other states – including Kansas, Ohio, and Indiana – have also demonstrated interest in the program.
Districts can submit more than two staff members each for training, depending on affordability. Once they return to school, though, their names remain anonymous to everyone except the administration.
The Kansas City Star first reported the story.
Once the training program is approved by a school board, the district asks faculty members for anonymous volunteers to participate in the program. Administrators choose from the respondents based on veteran status, prior firearms experience, and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations. Once approved by the district, instructors put the individuals through assessments, including fingerprinting, background checks, psychological evaluations, and drug and alcohol training, before beginning the week-long, “very high stress” program, Crowley said.
The $17,500 fee also includes liability insurance coverage, workers’ compensation insurance, and compensation to the instructors.
In total, there have been 74 school shootings since 26 individuals, including 20 first-graders, died inside Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, according to data compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety.
The Missouri legislature last spring approved a requirement for every school district to conduct simulated shooter drills with law enforcement officers. The exercises were initially meant for officials to craft strategies for removing shooters and to teach the staff to react quickly, but have expanded to include volunteer students. The law is vague and open for interpretation by different school districts. As a result, some schools already completed the required training for this year while other districts have not begun yet, Fennewald said.
The drills typically occur after the end of the school day. Teachers and student volunteers pretend to engage in their daily routines as the intruder fires a gun and the principal sends out an alert through a phone system and intercom, Tammy Kozinski, a drama teacher at Troy Buchanan High School in Missouri, told msnbc. Students wandering the hallways are either let into a classroom or locked out to simulate various possible situations. Officials arrive within minutes of the administration’s alert and proceed through the building in search of the shooter during a scenario that usually takes no more than 10 minutes.
“It makes you more aware of all of your surroundings and noises,” Kozinski said.
The procedures are in addition to the widespread practice of lockdown drills. Vice President Joe Biden has suggested fighting back as a last resort and has stressed the importance of the U.S. Department of Education’s take on ALICE – alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate – to stop a shooter.
Ninety-one percent of teachers said they believe an armed guard would improve school safety at least somewhat, according to a membership poll published earlier this year by the Association of American Educators. Additionally, 75% of the surveyed members feel safe or very safe in their schools. About 20% of the organization’s 20,000 members responded to the survey.
Since the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., the majority of teachers within the association have reported increased new safety procedures in their buildings, including locked doors, additional drills, strict hall access, new entrances, and a police presence.