This week we shared information about a new one day Tactical Defense Training class for school leaders available through The Draco Group. Through hands-on preparation by some of the best experts in the world, education administrators can be prepared for some of the worst-case-scenarios that we all hope won't happen, but are part of our responsibility in providing for the safety and security of students, teachers, staff, and parents.
Having received news about this training, Scott McLeod, of Prairie Lakes AEA in Iowa, wondered on LinkedIn whether this type of preparation is "what principals and superintendents need?" In response to Mr. McLeod's post, Joe Jezierski, at Red Wing Public Schools, commented, "This may be the single saddest thing I have seen regarding school leadership in years!"
Is providing defense training for school leaders really dangerously irrelevant and sad?
What data would make this type of training relevant for school leaders?
Here are some data points:
* Between 1992-2010 about 45 associated violent deaths (not just with guns) occurred at K-12 schools each year, with the highest annual total of 63 deaths in 2006-07. (2013 "Indicators of School Crime and Safety" report)
* Since 2010 there have been 100 shootings at U.S. schools (K-12 and higher ed)
* 10 people have been injured and 1 killed by armed assailants at US schools so far in 2015
One of those armed attacks since 2010 includes the violent assassination of my friend Dale Regan, Head of School at Episcopal School in Jacksonville FL, on March 6, 2012. This wonderfully kind and talented school administrator was gunned down by a disgruntled teacher who was fired that morning for a long history of incompetence. That insane coward walked into Dale's office with an assault rifle and murdered her along with a coach with whom she was meeting.
Shortly after the shooting, "the school's heads of security and maintenance went into Regan's office and found both bodies. Investigators found 11 shell casings, a loaded rifle clip with 30 inside and a plastic bag with 32 more."
I'm confident that this fine school had an intruder response plan. Was it adequate? Were people trained to know what to do with an armed assailant and understand the principles of appropriate tactical defense? Did "security cameras" really provide security? Is it the role of the Head of Security or the local police department to prevent a crime or follow up after the fact to track down the perpetrator?
My Own Personal Experience
As a school administrator I dealt with several dangerous threats to our campus. Most prominent in my mind was living and managing through the DC Sniper in October of 2002. This shooting spree by John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo terrorized the greater Washington D.C., in which ten people were killed and three critically injured (including a middle school student on his way to campus).
Even today when I pull up to a gas station, I remember being told to stand in a protected manner so as to avoid being a target. When I walk out of a store, I recall the practice of walking in a zig zag manner in order to make it harder to be shot. I also remember standing out in front of our campus each day at drop-off and pick-up times in order to provide a human shield for students as they cautiously moved from one point to another. I wasn't at all prepared nor trained for this type of encounter, but I did what I could.
My own personal experience dealing with such real risks includes responding to bomb threats, managing through the terrorist attacks on 9/11 at the nearby Pentagon, talking a parent out of killing himself and his kids with a gun, and collaborating with police officers to make sure a disgruntled fired employee didn't return to campus.
Prepared for the Worst, Expecting the Best
We're not taking a position on gun control, nor trying to create an attitude and atmosphere of fear on campus and in the administrator's office. Schools desperately need leaders who have the courage to make the right decisions on behalf of their students and other stakeholders--which includes investing the time and effort to be prepared for the realities of these risks.
How much time is spent preparing for fire drills and tornado/earthquake/other threat? Every school is required to train and practice regularly (though the quality of that preparation is questionable). Yet I cannot find any record of a student, teacher, or administrator dying at school because of these risks over the last decade.
Given the facts of history and personal experience with the threat of violence in and around the school campus, we think tactical defense training and more extensive campus safety preparation is a very wise and necessary decision. Yes, it may be a sad reality, but it's a real relevant danger nonetheless.