Breaking news today from northwest Ohio, there was a standoff with an armed student at Scott High School. According to new reports, the student was “isolated” in a hallway in the school during the event and adjacent classroom were evacuated. After an hour of so, the student was taken into custody after being shot in the foot with a bean bag round. The school/law enforcement press conference after the incident concluded centered on how everyone had done everything right. While thankfully no one was hurt and the event ended peacefully, let’s take a moment to see if there are lessons that can be learned.
FEMA’s new guidelines – In the post-incident press conference, school officials said that staff members responded as they were trained, and the media reported that the school’s response was in accordance with what is taught in schools “across the United States”. I don’t know how to state this diplomatically, but this is a completely inaccurate statement. In the past, school staffs were trained in a traditional lockdown approach that consisted of hiding out in classrooms and hoping for the best. This is no longer the case. The June 2013 release of FEMA and Department of Education guidelines for schools is very specific as to the need to do more than just a traditional lockdown. The events at Scott High School today illustrate the need for all school districts to understand and apply the new guidelines that are based on best practices.
Run, hide, fight - If the student at Scott High School was contained in a hallway, how can we be sure that students were “out of harm’s way” as reported? It was certainly appropriate to evacuate nearby classrooms, but in this volatile situation of a person with a gun, is it best to tell students to “shelter in classrooms and closets”? Could not the rest of the building have been evacuated as well, as recommended by FEMA? – “If it is safe to do so…. The first course of action that should be taken is to run out of the building and far away until you are in a safe location.” We don’t know the specifics of the situation and the response at Scott, but during the press conference that occurred while there was still an active threat in the building, police and school officials indicated that there was no need to evacuate the rest of the students. When there is good information about where the threat is, and it is safe to do so, why wouldn’t students be moved further out of harm’s way to an off-site location?
Enhance communication – Police reported at the press conference that students were not told anything about the incident and did not know why they were in lockdown. This should not be a deliberate strategy. Staff and students should know what the nature of the incident is, so that they can respond appropriately. Imagine the fear and uncertainty of hiding in a classroom or closet with no idea as to why. While at this point we don’t know what sort of communication DID take place, there is a need for specific, timely information to be given to those involved. FEMA’s recommendations include: “Those closest to the public address or other communications system, or otherwise able to alert others, should communicate the danger and necessary action.” It remains to be seen whether or not this occurred.
It’s easy for me to sit here and Monday morning quarterback the events of this Monday morning, but we must seize every opportunity to learn from the experiences of other schools as we endeavor to keep our students safe.