Malvern teachers train against potential campus shooter

By Wayne Bryan Published August 14, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

A group of Malvern school employees listen to Jerry Cooley, a Kansas City, Missouri, police officer and an instructor with Strategos, on how to deal with weapon-wielding school intruders through various access-denial techniques.

This time of year, teachers are getting ready for the new school year, with many of the schools opening within the next week across the Tri-Lakes Edition coverage area.

There are books to be selected and materials to be collected that will enhance the lessons in the textbooks, and there are meetings about changes in schedules and procedures. Everyone wants to be ready for a good school year ahead.

That is all part of the normal routine.

Teachers at Malvern Elementary School, however, gathered on Monday morning to learn about some things to do if their schools are faced with a teacher’s worst nightmare — an active shooter on campus.

More than 150 teachers and other personnel from the Malvern School District received four hours of training on how to react if someone comes onto school grounds or into the school and is firing a weapon.

“As a teacher, you are the true first responder at the scene,” said Jason Cooley, who has been an instructor for the Kansas City company Strategos International, a provider of security, safety and tactical training. “There’s a professional first responder, but you are the one there when things occur. You dial 911, and the police are coming, but what will you do in the meantime?”

The teachers received two hours of classroom training at Malvern High School at the start of the day, then moved to Malvern Elementary School for a show-and-tell period of instruction.

The Strategos’ instructors talked in the class about some of the school-shooting incidents dating back from the Columbine, Colorado, and Jonesboro shootings in the late 1990s to the latest incidents. Other topics included behaviors to notice and how quickly things can happen once an incident occurs.

“Teachers have to change their outlooks,” said Erik Baileygaines, a veteran of military canine teams and police SWAT operations. My mom was and my wife is a teacher, and both have been attacked by high school kids. Teachers cannot be worried about property damage, but need to learn how to barricade their classrooms and then to fight back.”

The training program stresses three types of defense of the classroom: lockout, get out, take out.

The three-pronged approach taught by Strategos instructors matches the run, hide and fight approach taught by government agencies.

The first type of defense — lockout — denies access to a classroom and is designed to put time between an active shooter and those attempting to run.

Cooley taught a group of teachers ways to secure doors into classrooms. He said blocking an inwardly opening door is accomplished differently than a door that opens outward.

For a door that opens into a room, a sure barricade that no amount of pressure can open requires constructing a barrier that goes from the door to the opposite wall.

“Think of the barricade as a bridge; it should connect completely with the door and the wall,” Cooley told the teachers. “If you don’t have enough tables, desks or chairs to go from one end to the other, buy some bookshelves. You will have them for books every day; then they can be used if you ever need a barricade.”

For a door that opens outward, as many classroom doors do, Cooley used ropes that could be attached to a door handle and held or secured to keep the door closed.

Cooley, who has been a member of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department for more than 20 years, said ropes can be pre-cut, tied and kept on hand, ready to use to secure doors. He said ropes at the ready might even be carried by teachers.

“The key will be knowing what to do — and do it quickly,” he said. “Then as the door is secure, get the students away from the doors. If the shooter can’t get in, they can’t shoot. How you react to this type of emergency is the same as a fire drill. It is preplanned and predetermined.”

Once the classroom is secure, then a teacher can think about escape.

“If your class is on the first floor, you might get out through a window, but that is not always the best action,” Baileygaines said. “It is not always the safest thing. When teachers and students got outside the school in Jonesboro, there was another shooter outside.”

If a room has been secured, staying there until the incident is over might be the best move.

“You are out of the hot zone in a secure room,” Cooley said. “Going outside moves you into a hot zone again.”

The final option is to take action against a shooter who is trying to gain access to your area. Baileygaines said that over the years, the teacher’s role has changed.

“You have a right to defend yourself,” he said. “It used to be that the thought was you did not touch people. But if people are coming at you and your students with a gun or a sledgehammer, you have a right to take action.”

“It is you or them,” Cooley said. “You have to stop thinking like a sheep and be like a sheep dog.”

Cooley talked about a teacher having scissors to slash or stab a shooter if an arm or hand is extended into the room.

“Don’t get the impression no one will be hurt,” he said. “An action to stop a shooter is not violence; it’s protection.”

Two Malvern school-resource police officers observed the training and said they agreed with the approach.

“I like that it gives teachers options,” said Cpl. Troy Norton of the Malvern Police Department.

“Nobody is telling the teachers they can’t fight,” Cpl. Keith Prince said. “It is good the plan is flexible.”

Cooley said he knows not all the teachers and educators would take to the idea of fighting back, but during the training, he talked to the group about the mind of a shooter in an incident like the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

“They are here to kill,” he said. “They don’t take hostages; they don’t negotiate; they have no exit strategy. Hiding under a desk is like having a number on your head. Do not think of it as something to survive. We are going to overcome and prevail.”

The same course is scheduled for presentation to two school systems elsewhere in the region on Wednesday.

One program is slated for the Lake Hamilton School District in Pearcy, while the other will be held for the Cutter Morning Star School District in Hot Springs. Both programs will be held in the morning.

Last year, both were among the 13 school districts in Arkansas to be allowed to continue using teachers, administrators and other staff as armed guards. After first voting to revoke two districts’ security licenses, the Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies said it will allow school districts to keep their security licenses for two more years. The panel looked at the matter of licenses for schools using school personnel as armed guards after Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said the permits should not be issued to the schools.

Lake Hamilton School District has used the licensing law to train some administrators as security guards. Superintendent Steve Anderson said the guns were locked away and not carried during the school day.

“Right now we have a mechanism in place that has worked for 20 years without a problem,” he said.

At the state private security agencies board meeting last September, Cutter Morning Star Superintendent Nancy Anderson said she would take action to defend her schools.

“If there is an active shooter in my building, I’m going in,” she said. “If I have nothing but staplers to throw, so be it. I’d like to have something other than a stapler to throw at someone with a gun.”

On the matter of arming school officials, the Strategos instructors said the question is up to the community.

“Armed school personnel is a community response,” Cooley said. “It is based on the location of the schools and the community. If there are 3,800 school children at risk and the law enforcement response is 45 minutes to an hour, then the community has to decide.”

The training with the Malvern teachers made no mention of firearms, only the items that would be found in an ordinary classroom.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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