The recent Parkland, Fla., school murders have sparked a heated national discussion about school safety, particularly about arming teachers. Law enforcement, teachers, administrators, students and parents—everyone has an opinion on pistol-packing professors.
Even President Trump has weighed in on the subject: He’s for it. So has the National of School Resource Officers: Against.
It’s a debate that may well go on for a very long time. Right now, 20 states already allow school employees besides peace officers to be armed on campus, and six more states are considering legislation to allow school carry.
Ohio arguably leads the nation in providing trained, armed teachers in schools. The Buckeye Firearms Foundation’s “FASTER Saves Lives” (Faculty-Administrator Safety Training Emergency Response) program has trained approximately 1,300 school employees in Ohio and eleven other states. There are about 200 school districts in Ohio where an officer may meet up with an armed teacher when responding to a call.
The Buckeye Firearms Foundation started providing this training free to teachers in December, 2012, just days after the Sandy Hook killings. Their legislative chairman, Ken Hanson, was participating in an ABC News televised town hall meeting when he finally heard one too many calls to “Do something!” He stood up and announced the foundation would provide free training to Ohio teachers and staff to carry firearms and quickly stop active killers in their schools.
“There were literally gasps from the audience,” Hanson said.
“When we first announced that we planned to train teachers in armed response and emergency medical aid,” FASTER Program Director Joe Eaton stated, “some people said teachers would never sign up. But within days of announcing the program, we had 600 apply for training with only 24 slots available. In weeks, it soared to over 1,000. Today we have nearly 2,000 faculty members from all over Ohio waiting in line for a chance to get this training. And more are contacting us every day.”
They rely solely on donations to pay the cost of the training. It costs schools nothing.
The FASTER-trained teacher has been authorized by the district to carry a concealed firearm while on the job, but they aren’t considered school police or security. Rather, they already have to be concealed-carry permit holders to enroll in the three-day Level 1 training (there are also Level 2 and Level 3 courses). They learn how to use trauma kits and engage shooters, and they must shoot 90% to qualify. (The passing score for Ohio Peace Officers, like many other states, is 80%).
So how does this affect your actions as the first officer arriving on campus at an active-shooter call? How do you quickly and safely discern good guy from bad guy? FASTER trains school employees to follow these three steps to clearly identify the good guys when law enforcement shows up.
1. Holster, If Possible. “If it is safe to do so, they should put the gun away and await the arrival of the professionals,” Director Eaton advised. “If it isn’t safe to put the gun away, they should find a position of safety where they are not in the classic ‘guy/gal with gun in hand position’ while they await LEO arrival.”
2. Advise Dispatch. In either case, they are to call 911 to provide their location in the building, their situation, and descriptions of the armed school employee and the suspect(s).
3. Welcome Officers. As soon as they are able, Eaton says, “We encourage them to find other responsible persons to stand ‘hands-up’ between them and the areas from where LEOs are likely to enter. Using multiple people, all the way to the building’s entry is even better. This ‘welcoming party’ gives Officers advance warning that an armed teacher is there and gives them updated information.”
As mentioned above, the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) is against arming teachers. They cite a number of concerns about armed civilians. Instead, they recommend at least one SRO position in every school in the nation, with more than one officer in large schools.
Still, the odds of both SROs and armed teachers working together at the same schools are increasing. So, what do SROs want to see when armed teachers are present?
Recently-retired Sergeant Roberta Hodgkinson, of the Clark County School District Police Department in Las Vegas, believes that armed teachers stopping the threat before officers arrive is a good thing. But if she were the only officer on scene, she says, “I wouldn’t consider having an armed teacher back me up. Instead, I would tell them ‘shelter in place, protect your students, and wait for officers.’”
Once other officers arrive, they should tell teachers their armed role is finished. Sgt. Hodgkinson prefers they make their weapons safe, and then secure them before exiting the building with empty hands up, while she and her fellow officers conduct their search. Aiding and evacuating the wounded behind the search team wouldn’t be a problem, but officers need to clear the building as soon as possible and can’t be slowed down by civilians. The good thing is that SROs know their beat, and likely know which schools have armed staff, making life safer for everyone.
According to Joe Eaton, “Being mistaken for the killer by arriving LEOs is a major concern of all staff who participate in the FASTER training. We give them ways to reduce the risk, but they are also very aware that there is no guarantee what will happen. They also are aware that even after stopping the killing and saving lives, they could very well still end up an innocent victim. They willingly accept this risk to keep the kids safe.”
Bottom Line: Train with armed school employees to do exactly what YOU want them to do. Work with school employees to follow FASTER’s three steps, or whatever steps work for you and your agency. Get everybody on the same page. Then drill it before a real event occurs. Repeat. Then, repeat again. Train more than you think you need to. As new cops, new school staff, and new ideas come along, remember: They all need to be put into your training.
The best way to keep schools safe these days is to work with—and really get to know—the teachers, SROs, and other school staff on your beat who are willing to fight for our kids as much as you are.
For more information, visit www.fastersaveslives.org.