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Don’t ever believe ‘it won’t happen here.’ Schools must be ready for mass shooters | Opinion


Don’t ever believe ‘it won’t happen here.’ Schools must be ready for mass shooters | Opinion

May 28, 2023 | 6:30 am ET
By Capital-Star Guest Contributor
Don’t ever believe ‘it won’t happen here.’ Schools must be ready for mass shooters | Opinion
A vigil for the Parkland victims. (Photo by Fabrice Florin, WikiMedia commons)

By Kirk R. Wilson

Through May 23,  34 people have been killed or injured in 23 shootings in K-12 schools. 

Communities, some more than others, are trying to wrap their arms around how to stop the violence, rather than wrapping their arms around terrified students.

I am not an expert. But I spent 26 years as a hands-on mayor, overseeing a progressive police department.  Over the years, I became knowledgeable in the operations of a law enforcement agency.  I have spent the last three years as a substitute teacher, often five days a week. Not necessarily an “educator,” I have learned my way around schools, working with students, faculty and administrators. 

 I’ve given a great deal of thought to the dilemma of school violence. I wrote and taught a curriculum based on the FBI’s “Run! Hide! Fight!” suggested response to an active shooter. After the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, I spoke with clergy, those who fled and law enforcement.

I am not a proponent of gun control, per se. But the AR-15 serves no public good to the civilian population. 

In a May 11 column, Capital-Star Editor-in-Chief John L. Micek wrote that “the AR-15 and its imitators, known for their brutal efficiency, are the weapon of choice in these mass slaughters.”  His  column continued: “The AR-15 fires bullets at such a high velocity – often in a barrage of 30 or even 100 in rapid succession – that it can eviscerate multiple people in seconds.”

I’m not a pessimist.  I’m a realist. I believe it will be years before authorities will be able to prevent active shooters in our schools.  Not that they should stop trying, because there are examples where officials were successful.

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What that means is our educational facilities can no longer be “soft targets.” 

Britannica.com defines a soft target as a location that is “easily accessible to large numbers of people and that have limited security or protective measures in place making them vulnerable to attack.”  Too many of our schools fit that definition. Many schools will say they are not a soft target, pointing to security, but it is limited security. 

Airports, government buildings, military installations and power stations have transformed into hard targets as security became a paramount concern. Schools don’t need to be locked down and prison-like to be transformed into a hard target. 

The first step to more secure schools is a School Resource Officer (SRO) in every building. 

Edweek.org reports, “The topic of school policing remains difficult and contested – from viral videos of police and student encounters gone wrong, to a seeming surge in violence that’s causing some districts to consider adding more cops in school to perennial fears about school shootings.”

A school resource officer is a sworn law enforcement officer with arrest powers who works full-time or part-time in a school setting. According to federal data, 91 percent of SROs are armed.  And this is where the rub is.  

If you want your SRO to serve in the capacity of community policing with students and violence prevention, they don’t necessarily need to be armed. But no matter a district’s public stance, they hire them to serve as a shield for students in an active shooter incident.

Here’s why to do the job they need to be armed: SRO Smith hears sounds of gunfire on the northeast corner of the second floor.  He moves swiftly down the hallway to a T intersection.

Across from him is a classroom. The hallway runs left to right. He cautiously looks to the right. He sees the shooter in a confused state. Ducks back behind the wall. He decides to leave his position of concealment, approach the shooter and asks him to drop the weapon. The SRO is shot. I hate to think how many more lives would be lost under this scenario. If he had been armed, he could have neutralized the shooter, and the incident would have ended.

The National Association of School Resource Officers (nasro.org) offers courses to improve police officers’ effectiveness in schools. Specifically, a basic 40-hour training includes content on the adolescent brain, cyber safety and violence prevention in schools, among other topics.

School districts in Pennsylvania have a new resource at their disposal.

The Pennsylvania School Safety Institute has a 5,000-square-foot facility to train educators and law enforcement to respond to dangerous situations in schools using classroom training and hands-on simulations: 360-degree, eight-room simulator; an interactive experience with special effects and more than 1,000 different scenarios – from disruptive students to disgruntled employees to outsiders’ intent on causing harm.

Remember: The first step to any complete safety plan is the hiring and training of armed school resource officers. SROs should be assigned to every school. 

Don’t fall into the mindset that “it won’t happen here.” School boards and administrators have the justification to do the right thing.

Kirk R. Wilson is the former mayor of Carlisle, Pa. He has spent the past three school years as a daily
substitute teacher in a south-central Pennsylvania school district. He writes from Carlisle, Pa.