Bulletproof Backpacks or Bang for the Buck?

 Image courtesy of:  Seattle Municipal Archives

Image courtesy of: Seattle Municipal Archives

Several media outlets reported this week about a Florida school that is selling bulletproof backpack inserts to their students for $120 each.  Let that sink in a minute -  we are now at a point in our society where bullet proof gear is considered a school necessity. There is so much that could be discussed here – from the societal ills that result in mass shootings on a regular basis, to the potentially exploitive practice of preying on a parent’s worst fears to sell products.  Oh, and then there’s the possibility that these inserts most likely will not keep students any safer, regardless of the motivation for selling them.

Instead, let’s talk about the allocation of financial resources in this direction (forgiving the insensitive pun), what gives the biggest bang for the buck to keep a classroom full of kids safe? First, we need to do the math: 25 students at $120 per bulletproof insert = $3,000 available for classroom safety. 

The bulletproof insert is specifically designed for one possible event – an active shooter – and is limited (to say the least) in its application. The student needs to be able to access their backpack in the event and must know how to use the backpack as a shield. So, for $3,000 we have a marginal solution to a single statistically unlikely problem.

For that same $3,000 we could provide training – and lots of it. We could directly train every person in the classroom in the five FEMA recommended response protocols – evacuation, reverse evacuation, lockdown, shelter in place, and drop, cover, hold. These five protocols can be employed in virtually every possible crisis event from an earthquake to a non-custodial parent to an active shooter.

But there’s still money left. Then we could provide more direct training to the teacher and aide in this classroom. First aid, CPR, and AED training would give these adults the lifesaving skills necessary to treat the variety of injuries and medical events that schools face almost daily.

But wait, there’s more - our money buys us still more training. Students, staff, and parents can be trained in lockdown enhancements and options, including active shooter training, that will give them the capacity to employ the recommended FEMA/DHS protocol of “run, hide, fight”. The ability to rapidly evacuate and/or barricade to deny the gunman access is crucial to surviving an active shooter event.

Finally, we’ll use the balance of our $3,000 to prevent, not just respond to violence. Threat assessment management training allows schools to identify, assess, and manage individuals who may pose a threat of violence to themselves or others BEFORE an incident occurs. Strategic supervision practices provide teachers with the means to identify, prevent, and remediate potential violence or misbehavior. Assessing and improving school climate and culture has a proven track record of preventing violence AND increasing academic achievement.

Education is a people business – let’s stop buying stuff and invest in people to keep our students safe. I bet your bullet-proof insert can’t do that…