Review of Ohio Attorney General's School Violence Program

Attorney General Mike DeWine has mailed a two-disc DVD set to all Ohio schools. The DVD is titled, “School Shootings: How to be aware, prepare, and be a first responder in a crisis.” It covers educator training presented by the Attorney General’s Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA).

In his introduction, AG DeWine notes that he is “sorry that we have to do this.” He notes that the topic is something we really don’t want to talk about. Discussing someone coming into our school and shooting our children is a sad, and, for many, a scary topic. It is unpleasant to think about, but so is child abuse. Ignoring either problem is a terrible injustice to the kids we are duty-bound to protect, and we applaud the Attorney General for helping educators face the reality of school violence and start down a path to make our schools safer for our kids.

The three-hour lecture/discussion is presented by Jim Burke, who will hold the viewers’ attention. This lecture does not advocate arming teachers/staff, nor does it cover hand-to-hand combat or other specific tactics. It does not tell schools exactly how they must respond, but it does help them understand these events, and gives them general guidelines on things every school should be doing right now. It contains a wealth of valuable information of lessons learned at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Chardon and other locations. It should be studied by every school board member and administrator.

While our schools are relatively “safe,” we must acknowledge that there are real dangers. The National School Safety Center reports that between 1992 and 2010 there were 468 violent deaths in our schools including 348 shootings and 67 stabbings. In the last 50 years, not one kid has died in a school fire. The discussion, planning, redundant layers of protection and joint efforts that have brought great success in reducing the deaths in fires can yield similar reductions in deaths from school violence. But if we want to change the trend of increasing deaths, we need to change the way we talk about and deal with school violence.

Over the years, law enforcement has learned and made changes and improvements in how they respond to active killer situations. But school response has remained stuck in “lock down.” That must change. They must now learn and adjust their emergency response to include evacuation, barricade, and other effective countermeasures. One of the main points is that we must start communicating. Teachers, administration and law enforcement must work together to detect individuals who show danger signs. There are risk factors associated with individuals who do mass killings that teachers should be alert for. Trust your gut feeling and don’t dismiss your concerns.

Schools should have a single point of contact where teachers/parents can go with concerns. Foster a relationship between law enforcement, mental health experts and schools. Their cooperative effort is needed to work through concerns raised about a particular individual. Have periodic meetings with various agencies and groups to discuss problems, solutions and progress.

Schools need to update procedures and train for active killers. “It’s not about being paranoid. It’s about being prepared.” Burke states. “There is nothing wrong with being prepared.” There is a lot of discussion on the buying of time and the importance of time in active killer events.

Our teachers and school staff are the first responders. They must be prepared to act. We must train our teachers so they know how to deal with violence problems in various stages:

  1. Plan to prevent.
  2. Plan to fight.
  3. Plan for the aftermath.

“If the shooter begins to attack in your room, be prepared to fight” – Department of Homeland Security.

The presentation breaks down the Virginia Tech killings in Norris Hall by room. In some rooms they were passive, in others they were active in their own defense. The difference in the carnage is striking.

In the two rooms where they were passive, there were a total of 33 people. 22 (67%) were killed, 8 (24%) were wounded. Only 3 (9%) escaped unharmed.

In the three rooms where they were active in their defense, there were a total of 44 people. 7 (16%) were killed. 9 (20%) were wounded, and 28 (64%) escaped physically unharmed. The difference becomes even more striking when you realize the vast majority of the injured/killed in the active rooms were harmed on the first entry, then they became active when he came back to finish the job. This not a situation that simply allows fighting; it demands it.

Burke points out the stark difference in law enforcement responses versus teachers/others after violent encounters. Police will often state, “I reverted back to my training.” Others comment that, “I thought we were going to die.” We need to train our teachers so that during an event, they too will confidently respond according to their training and actively save lives, just as they would for a fire, choking, or even a heart attack situation where they used the AED (Automatic External Defibrillator).

The DVD includes some graphic pictures. This is important because if you can’t look at a picture of violence, you are unlikely to be able to act professionally when faced with real life violence. It also includes discussion of the victims and heroes from many school killings.

Burke notes, “If you are expecting them to show you any kind of mercy, they won’t. So you fight with everything you have.” He communicates this message to his young daughter. If she can handle it (and she can) then every adult whose duties include overseeing the safety of our children needs to be able to aggressively respond to active killers.

The presentation also includes an ABC News interview with Sandy Hook teacher Kaitlin Roig describing the event and what she did with her students during that massacre. It is emotional, with her tearfully describing how she barricaded a door and hid her children. She told them, “There are bad guys out there now. We just have to wait for good guys.” What a sad situation to trap your teachers and kids in.

We don’t have to wait for the good guys. They are already in the building in the form of teachers, administrators and other adults. We just need to enable them to respond to the bad guys effectively and immediately. Police are coming, but the death toll will be greatly reduced if the school employees have the training, tools, and mindset to stop the killing before police get there. On average, five people will die every minute until the killer is stopped.

Ask your schools what lessons they leaned from the “School Shooting” DVD Attorney General DeWine sent them. It contains valuable information and ideas, but the DVD is wasted if the lessons are not learned and implemented.