Hopefully This Stays In The Realm Of Theory
October 9, 2006 7:03 PM   Subscribe

If someone walks into my classroom (filled with students) wielding a gun, what should I do? I have recieved no training or input in this area, and while I cannot imagine it ever happening at my school, if it ever does happen, I'd like to make sure myself and my children see the event through safely.
posted by absalom to Education (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Seems like one first step would be to put 911 and/or your local police department on your cell phone's speed dial so you can call them without taking the phone out of your pocket. If you don't say anything, a 911 operator will take a listen to what's going on and might be able to send some help your way.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:10 PM on October 9, 2006

You should speak to your principal and superintendant now. Your school and district should have safety plans in place and should have already trained you.

I can't believe that you haven't already been given training, frankly. When I taught in Tennessee it seemed like they were obsessed with safety training, and that was in the pre-9/11 age! You can't be the only teacher in your district to have these sorts of concerns either!
posted by Pollomacho at 7:16 PM on October 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

Have the local police department review your safety and lockdown procedures and ask this specific question of them.

You are going to get truckloads of contrary bullshit answers to this question (tackle him, don't tackle him, etc). Ignore them and go get a real, live expert to answer you.
posted by frogan at 7:17 PM on October 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

The only related training I've been given is to try and project calm, and keep the gunman as calm as possible. I don't imagine that's very likely in a schoolroom situation. Heroics are still out though: any disarm attempt is to be ruled out, unless you are utterly certain you can incapacitate him.
posted by bonaldi at 7:17 PM on October 9, 2006

Based purely on a couple decades of depressingly similar news accounts and Bruce Willis movies, it seems that (1) calling 911, (2) waiting for help, or (3) reasoning/pleading with the gunman/woman/boy doesn't do squat. Gun-wielding psychos are a pretty determined bunch (that guy who traded his freedom for some meth notwithstanding). Odds are you'll get offed by the nutball or during the SWAT crossfire 9 times out of 10.

Just as you should never get in a car trunk or passenger seat at the demand of an assailant -- despite that gun to your head -- the odds are way against you once the gunman feels he's in control. So I say immediately (1) run away, or (2) tackle the guy and/or wrest his gun away, with some help if possible. (The latter is the option if you want to save your students' skins, along with your own.)

Obviously, this is utterly useless information from an amateur. You and your math students may want to consult a professional, and/or Chuck Norris.
posted by turducken at 7:29 PM on October 9, 2006

EMS workers use talk down and de-escalation techniques to potentially violent patients, though the general rule is to get the hell away from anyone with a weapon.
posted by The White Hat at 7:29 PM on October 9, 2006

*contrary bullshit, stipulated.
posted by turducken at 7:34 PM on October 9, 2006

Have the local police department review your safety and lockdown procedures and ask this specific question of them.

Lots of places don't have procedures for this. Every school has fire drills and plans for whatever weather/siesmic events are indigenous to its location, but not all of them have a plan for violence. If your school has one, great, but if not, helping to develop one would be a great starting point.
posted by jaysus chris at 7:38 PM on October 9, 2006

The most effective system (and something that is outside of your control as a classroom teacher) would be a "duress" code that you could transmit to the main office.

This would require installation and training, et cetera.

For example, a button or switch that you could discretely activate that sends an alarm to the main office.

There would have to be a protocol. When the office called you on the intercom to see if everything is ok, they would need to ask a question that would not alert the gunman, for example,

"Mr. Absalom, I am sorry to interrupt, but we did not receive your attendance sheet today, did you send it in?"

A normal answer (everything is ok) would be, "Sorry, my mistake, everything is fine."

An "in duress" answer (an intruder with a gun is in my room) would be, "Yes, I sent it in to Room 503 this morning" (The key being there is no Room 503 in the school).

Room 503 would be a code for an extreme emergency that everyone in the school was familiar with.

At that point, the office would contact the police and then possibly make an announcement, "Attention, teachers, if you have not sent in your attendance yet, please send an aide or student to room 503 with the attendance."

This would a code for "intruder in the bldg, secure your classroom" allowing the teachers to lock their classroom doors and move the students away from the door.
posted by mlis at 7:40 PM on October 9, 2006 [9 favorites]

Surely there are existing protocols/procedures for this situation that someone could link to. Aren't there? (I just Googled "procedure gunman in classroom" and all I got were sensational news stories... )
posted by LeisureGuy at 7:49 PM on October 9, 2006

"Mr. Absalom, I am sorry to interrupt, but we did not receive your attendance sheet today, did you send it in?"

A normal answer (everything is ok) would be, "Sorry, my mistake, everything is fine."

That doesn't work.

Q: Did you send in your attendance sheet?

A: Everything is fine!

And what happens if this person is a student; who knows there is no room 503, and attendance sheets are sent to the office weekly, etc?
posted by oxford blue at 7:57 PM on October 9, 2006

FWIW, it looks like the TNDoE's Multi-Hazard Emergency Planning for Schools training course was back in February. Mike Herrmann might be able to tell you when next year's course is scheduled to take place.
posted by carsonb at 7:58 PM on October 9, 2006

Are kids in your school still trained for air raids? Whatever protocol gets them under their desks would be good, and should be something they do on your one word command: "Raid" or whatever.

You don't say what age level you are dealing with; that would help.

I've taught in many, many schools, and have to agree that MLIS' plan is absurd. Secret buttons, even intercoms are not givens in any school, particularly underfunded ones. Your best bet is reliance on a plan which you can execute on your own. Also, instill in yourself a sense of determination, calm and hope--teachers can and do get their kids through such situations, and thoughtful advance consideration of tactics and options speaks volumes about your abilities.

I don't have suggestions beyond that, but I'll be reading this with interest.
posted by Riverine at 8:09 PM on October 9, 2006

MLIS's plan was pretty much exactly what, though slightly varied on the language, was used in the public elementary school where I taught in TN.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:22 PM on October 9, 2006

My son's 3rd grade class had a "Level 2" drill just today. The classroom door was locked, the lights turned off, and each child hid in a closet (5 children per closet) and were "quiet as mice".

The class received an extra recess for doing so well on the drill. My son was quite proud. I was quite terrified.

I have no idea what they'd do if an intruder was already in the room.
posted by LadyBonita at 9:10 PM on October 9, 2006

Just putting in a plug for first-aid courses - obviously not enough in terms of emergency preparedness, but a good idea to have training in nonetheless. One can't always rely on a school having a school nurse, right?
posted by rmm at 10:02 PM on October 9, 2006

Everyone thinks it can't happen at their school so they don't bother creating procedures. A few of the national school incidents happened in my area so as you can imagine our local schools have TONS of procedures in place. I'm a Network Administrator (and have almost zero interaction with kids) so I'm not that familiar with the Code Red procedures. All I've been told is when a Code Red is announced walk into the closest room. Once a door is closed it is not opened for anyone (even a known student) until the Code Red is dismissed. I believe our Principals and School Resource Officer then sweep the hallways for straglers.

To answer the poster's question, I think you'd be pretty fucked if a kid walked into your room with a gun. These kids are troubled, not stupid. And this behavior is way past being just a cry for help. Once you've taken it that far it would be almost impossible to back down. You know your ass is going to jail and you'll be a freakshow on the news. All you could do is be calm, keep your kids calm, do what he\she says and try to give them a way out of the situation if possible. The only good solution is to take steps to make sure it doesn't happen at your school in the first place. These kids all gave signals that they were troubled but they were ignored by their parents, friends and teachers.

The chances of it happening at your school are pretty slim. But I would think the chances of the kid walking into your room are almost zero. I would still bring it up to your Principal, Superintendent or School Board and ask if your district has a plan. Most teachers I know have tons of friends teaching in other districts. If this describes you, ask them if their district has a plan in place.
posted by bda1972 at 10:06 PM on October 9, 2006

My school used MLIS's system as well. However, that doesn't work if the shooter is a student, as it often is -- it the students are informed of lockdown codes and procedures in advance, so they know what to do. To me, it doesn't seem any more useful than just shouting "LOCKDOWN!!" over the PA system.
posted by danb at 10:40 PM on October 9, 2006

As I recall, rampage type violence in businesses and schools hovers around 50 dead, year to year. This makes getting killed by a gunman less likely than being struck by lightning. You or your students are vastly more likely to be killed in a mote vehicle accident on the commute to or from school than to die in a grudge slaying.

Overall, schools are some of the safest places for a person to be, far safer than homes or other workplaces. Columbine style School shootings are attention grabbing, and stimulate our viscera in ways little else can, but your school would be better served by instituting a training program for parking lot safety than to waste time worrying about random school shootings.
posted by Richard Daly at 11:00 PM on October 9, 2006 [2 favorites]

As a student, it worries me that you haven't already received training for this (from the school board/district, etc.). I'm not saying you're at fault; I'm just saying that in general, I'd always assumed this kind of stuff was to be taught to all teachers and not something left for educators to learn on their own...
posted by mittenedsex at 11:15 PM on October 9, 2006

Oh, one more thing. At the high school I attended, I believe the lockdown procedure was intended to accomplish two things. 1) Allay the fears of parents and students by allowing the administration to proclaim that Steps Had Been Taken. 2) In the very unlikely event of an invasion of the school, it would keep civilian casualties to a minimum by stalling the attackers through division of the targets, and keeping panicked children and teachers well out of the way of jumpy SWAT officers who'd have a hard time telling an innocent moody teenager from a genuine homicidal nutjob.

Neither of these two strategic objectives pertain much to the tactical situation of "guy in the room with a gun." Lockdown minimizes casualties of the population; it doesn’t really do dick for the folks confronted with the noisy end of a weapon. The Vietnam Vet I had for economics commented off hand that if someone came through his door with a firearm, he'd order the class to charge -- on the principle that an untrained gunman wouldn't get more than a few shots off, and the survivors would overwhelm the assailant.
posted by Richard Daly at 11:16 PM on October 9, 2006 [2 favorites]

The advice upthread to seek professional advice may be more an expression of hope, than of experience. Many small town and sparse population county law enforcement departments would not have plans for such eventualities, or personnel to study and foment same, but good on them, if your local resources do. The closest real world recurring experience base may U.S. bank robberies, so give some thought for recommendations to surviving in those.

I agree with Richard Daly that an inexperienced gunman, bursting into a classroom full of kids is ill prepared to injure many, in the first few seconds after his entry. But I disagree with his economics teacher's idea that ordering the class to charge is a reasonable plan, either. Most school kids wouldn't charge a stranger, particularly if they saw he was armed, and any that did are likely to present the gunman with an immediate proximate cause to start shooting. That is bad, even if he's just got a .22 pistol. It's horrible if he's got a semi-auto 10 or 12 guage shotgun.

We're actually, as a country, pretty lucky that most of the rampage school shootings that have taken place, haven't been conducted by trained gunmen like Charles Whitman, or with the planning and foresight that marked the Columbine tragedy. Schools aren't fortresses, nor am I, for one, sure that they should be, as childhood learning experiences in physically secured surroundings are liable to be fairly sterile and also stressful. I doubt kids would learn well in modified cell blocks and day rooms. Furthermore, it might be that we ultimately find that organized rapid dispersal is a better means of protecting children from school invasions than some kind of lockdown.

But unless the original poster is willing and able to teach in a full suit of combat body armor at all times, and the students being taught are also so equipped, the situation posted is already a complete failure of institutional planning and security, at its outset. Once an armed gunman is in a standard classroom, as happend recently in the Amish school house, the gunman is in complete control.

That said, my recommendation to the original poster, is that, if and when faced with a door burst open and a lone gunmen in the room, the best course will be to try to get the gunman's full attention, listen closely to his instructions despite any shock or screaming from the students, and assure the gunmen of compliance with his demands, by deliberately and immediately doing whatever you can to actually comply with them. Keep your hands in plain sight. Move quickly but smoothly. Try to face the gunman, and maintain visual contact with his weapon, unless ordered by him to do otherwise. If he directs you to turn around so that you do not face him, do so immediately, even if it seems dangerous to do so. Compliance with his directions is your only means of lowering the gunman's aggression level, in the moments after he enters the room.

Work on quieting and controlling the students only after reaching some permissive acceptance to do so with the gunman. To the best of your ability, give him what he wants as quickly as you can, do what he says as deliberately as possible, and try to remain as calm as you can in a horrifying situation. Your job at that point is simply to play for time, as much as you can, by getting cooperation of all students, and quieting them. In doing so, you must avoid actions which are provocative to the gunman. If you can get through the first five minutes without shots being fired, you stand a much better chance of surviving, with your students, than you do if shots are fired.

Beyond the first five minutes, hostage dynamics come into play. Unless you have special training and tactical prepardess, engaging armed people verbally can be risky, as you stand to provoke them, merely by trying to establish communication. It is better to wait for some request from them that clearly indicates they want to communicate with you or your students. To the extent you have any choice, try to keep your students and yourself away from windows and doors that may be used by rescue personnel. If shooting does happen, don't attempt to treat or comfort the injured without permission of persons firing. Try at every moment, to remain alive and uninjured, and to help as many students as you can, without overtly exposing yourself to injury. If you become disabled or significantly impaired, your ability to help your students any further is immediately lessened.

At some point, the situation will be resolved. You cannot direct or facilitate the outcome beyond what the armed parties allow you to do so, nor should you try.
posted by paulsc at 1:19 AM on October 10, 2006

If someone walks into my classroom (filled with students) wielding a gun, what should I do?

Just try like fuck not to be the one he wants to shoot.

Do exactly what he tells you to do. There's a decent chance he will have a goal ("Kill people I hate" is a popular item on their to-do lists) and will kill bystanders who become in-between-standers -- people who get between him and his goal. Be quiet and listen to him. If his list isn't "Kill everyone," you can get out of this.

Control yourself: no wailing, begging, sobbing stuff that could make him want to make you shut the fuck up. If you aren't already one of the people he hates (bully?), and you don't try to stop him killing the people he does hate, and you aren't annoying him right then and there, maybe he'll ignore you and shoot the screamer in the next desk. But he can't ignore you if you're having a meltdown or trying to negotiate with him or distract him.

Sit and do what he wants you to do. Listen to him. Appear nonaggressive. Watch him and (peripherally) everything around you so you aren't caught by surprise when someone makes a move. Eventually, someone will come through a door or window and kill him very messily. Just hope that you can sit quietly out of the way until that happens.
posted by pracowity at 5:49 AM on October 10, 2006

It really depends on the situation and there are many vastly different scenarios. There is the Breslan scenario, there is the Columbine scenario, and there is the recent Lancaster scenario.

In the Breslan scenario you are better off following the terrorists demands but formulating a plan of escape.

In the Columbine scenario, you will be the first killed more than likely so a quick escape is the best solution.

In the Lancaster scenario the gunman wants the little girls so you should probably negotiate and reason with him. In this case there is the possibility he will give up willingly without hurting anyone but in the other two cases, reaoning with the gunmen are an impossibility.
posted by JJ86 at 6:12 AM on October 10, 2006

I think the tendency to advise not attempting to do anything heroic is the result of the idea that if the guy shoots even if you do everything he says, it's entirely the gunman's fault and you're only a victim, but if the guy shoots after you try to stop him, then you've sort of involved yourself. But if he was going to shoot anyway, then trying to subdue him is the right thing to do.

So it's a judgment call - you have to assess
a)the weapon
b)the intent of the perpetrator (is he there to kill, hold hostages, freak people out for momentary surge, etc)
c)physical environment (who's near the door, are there protected areas like closets or big desks)
d)physical set up (how near are you to him, which way is he facing) and
e)his mindset / expertise (is he focused and determined, or randomly waving the weapon around; is he afraid, relaxed, on a power trip; how much attention is he paying to these details, etc)

Based on a quick review of factors like those, you have to make a call, and take action (even when action is simply following instructions, if that's what you assess is best). I would say in a situation where it's just a pistol, you are close enough to gain control of the gun and the guy seems unstable or unfocused, that making a move would be a good choice. If he's got an automatic rifle, comes in on the opposite side of the room, and is concentrated, then a rush from the class is not going to be that effective (esp as people are tripping over desks...) even if you could commandeer it.

With mobile phones ubiquitous, no doubt 911 will get called; a secret emergency button is a nice idea, but to set up a whole system for such an extraordinarily unlikely event seems kinda dumb...

the boy scouts motto can be taken partly just as a state of mind, too - in a difficult situation, concentrate on gathering information, recognizing what choices you have to make, etc, rather than just freaking out. I think the hardest part of an emergency situation would be dealing with making those sorts of choices after things have already turned bad, ie, if someone's (maybe you're) already shot, or if it's a nuclear blast and you know you're already exposed, keeping your head clear is going to be a much bigger challenge. But when things are still technically fine, your emotional responses are less valid because they're about a future which hasn't yet come to pass (they're partly fantasy at that point), so the key is to stay calm and make intelligent choices.
posted by mdn at 6:16 AM on October 10, 2006

I would like to know if there are any experts in this.

I have two bits of secondary source expertise which may be relevant.

An ex-Green Beret friend once passed on the phrase 'Charge a gun, run from a knife.' This grants the situation is already mortal, and a gun can get you from a distance.

Training in non-violence had a particular scenario of a demonstration with a violent confrontation. The solution was for the crowd to crush in and immobilize the fighter, smothering the conflict.

Neither of these is very satisfactory. Your question presupposes that you are the responsible adult in the room. Generally speaking, talking is better than fighting. But a gun in a classroom is already a deadly scenario, and you may not have time to do what is normally 'appropriate.'
posted by dragonsi55 at 6:26 AM on October 10, 2006

If possible, find a local Krav Maga class. They'll have much better advice than we do.
posted by Caviar at 6:56 AM on October 10, 2006

Brand new National Review article on just this topic.
posted by jasper411 at 9:07 AM on October 10, 2006

It's at this juncture I'd like to point out my original suggestion to ignore the contrary types of bullshit advice I was sure would follow. And hey look, it did.

The real answer is ... consult your local police and review your school's emergency plan. If there's no plan, make one.
posted by frogan at 5:54 PM on October 10, 2006

Isn't that National Review article based on a Colbert's "The Word: Safety"? Yeah, it is.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:35 PM on October 10, 2006

See the following: taking a page from Richard Daly's economics teacher's book ...


Texas district teaches students to fight back

By Jeff Carlton
Associated Press

October 14, 2006

BURLESON, Texas -- Youngsters in a suburban Fort Worth school district are being taught not to sit there like good boys and girls with their hands folded if a gunman invades the classroom.

Instead, they're told, rush him and hit him with everything they got -- books, pencils, legs and arms.

"Getting under desks and praying for rescue from professionals is not a recipe for success," said Robin Browne, a major in the British Army reserve and an instructor for Response Options, the company providing the training to the Burleson schools.

That kind of fight-back advice is all but unheard of among schools, and some fear it will get children killed.

But school officials in Burleson said they are drawing on the lessons learned from a string of disasters such as Columbine in 1999 and the Amish schoolhouse attack in Pennsylvania last week.

The school system in this Fort Worth suburb of about 26,000 is believed to be the first in the nation to train all its teachers and students to fight back, Browne said.

At Burleson -- which has 10 schools and about 8,500 students -- Browne recommends students and teachers "react immediately to the sight of a gun by picking up anything and everything and throwing it at the head and body of the attacker and making as much noise as possible. Go toward him as fast as we can and bring them down."

Response Options trains students and teachers to "lock onto the attacker's limbs and use their body weight," Browne said. Everyday classroom objects, such as paperbacks and pencils, can become weapons.

"We show them they can win," he said.

The fight-back training parallels the change in thinking that has occurred since Sept. 11, when United Flight 93 made it clear that the usual advice during a hijacking -- Don't try to be a hero, and no one will get hurt -- no longer holds. Flight attendants and passengers are now encouraged to rush the cockpit. Similarly, women and youngsters are often told by experts to fight during a rape attempt or a child-snatching.

Terry Grisham, spokesman for the Tarrant County Sheriff's Department, said he had concerns, though he had not seen details of the program.

"You're telling kids to do what a tactical officer is trained to do, and they have a lot of guns and ballistic shields," he said. "If my school was teaching that, I'd be upset, frankly."

Some students said they appreciate the training. "It's harder to hit a moving target than a target that is standing still," said 14-year-old Jessica Justice.
posted by jayder at 3:36 PM on October 14, 2006

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