South Summit teachers taught to fight back in a school shooting
Dallas Gines knew it was a drill, but as she waited in her classroom for a person imitating an intruder with a gun to kick through the door and threaten the lives of her students, it still made adrenaline pump quickly through her veins.
“The gunman actually entered my classroom and I had to keep a class of true students, I mean they were real students from South Summit, safe,” she said. “The thought process is as long as he’s fighting with me or I have him engaged in some way, he’s at least not shooting students. That’s my goal.”
In response to the mass shootings that have taken place at schools across the country, South Summit School District is training its teachers to fight back. The district hired a tactical training company to teach its staff how to defend themselves and their students if an active shooter enters the campus. The training does not include arming teachers with firearms or training them to use them.
Jodi Jones, spokesperson for the district, said the district started working with Dave Acosta, founder of Fight Back Nation, two years ago. Acosta teaches educators how to attack and disarm an active shooter. He trains them in different scenarios, from a group of teachers taking down a shooter in the bathroom to one teacher removing the weapon of a shooter who enters the classroom.
If there is ever a school shooting, teachers are taught to run and hide first. But if a shooter has the chance to harm people, teachers are trained to “fight back and reach for the gun,” Jones said.
The district works with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and Kamas City Police Department to organize active shooter drills to put their training to the test. All teachers are required to go through the training and drills, and students above the age of 16 can volunteer to participate.
“It gives us an opportunity to set our plan in motion,” Jones said. “It’s just like a dry run that we can test to see how we are doing as far as timing.”
Lt. Andrew Wright, of the Sheriff’s Office, said officers shoot blanks, use fog machines and deploy the fire alarm to mimic the chaos that happens in a shooting. There is a “suspect” who runs around the school with a gun replica. Law enforcement officers work on their response time while teachers practice running, hiding and fighting.
“There are so many different senses going on. You’ve got your visual and your hearing and the smells. We try to make it as realistic as possible so that everyone involved gets the proper training,” Wright said. He said the sheriff’s office has been doing active shooter drills in the schools for more than 12 years.
Gines said the two drills she has participated in felt very realistic. A person with a fake gun entered her classroom during the practice and she had to protect her students from the shooter. She said she was able to fight against the officer portraying the shooter and hinder him from aiming at her students.
She was shaken after the incident, as were many other teachers who participated in the drill. She said several teachers were emotional. Law enforcement officers debriefed after the event so teachers and students could share their feelings and talk about what went well and how they could improve.
Despite the fear she felt on the day of the drill, Gines is glad the district is choosing to train its teachers.
“I know engaging with them is the last option, but at the same time I feel comfortable doing that now,” she said. “Before, I don’t know that any of us would have felt comfortable.”
Gines is also more confident about sending her children to school every day. She has five children in the district, and she said she now knows that all of her kids’ teachers have the knowledge and skills to protect them if they need to.
She said the training has helped her children, too. Two of her older kids participated in the drill, and they also learned what they can do to help defend themselves. Gines said they felt empowered.
One of her elementary-aged daughters gets extreme anxiety when she hears about school shootings. Gines said after she told her daughter about the trainings her teachers went through, she was more at ease.
“It seems to actually calm her down,” she said.
Gines said she is grateful the district has chosen to invest in training.
“Give us something. Don’t let us be sitting ducks,” she said. “I don’t want to have to just sit and not know what to do. I love having a tool.”
She said the training also helped prepare her emotionally for a school shooting. She said after a few run-throughs, teachers are able to stay calm and make decisions quickly.
Jones said several of the teachers she spoke with after the training also felt more confident because they know what to do if they are in a life-threatening situation with a shooter. She said the district has also updated its security at its schools.
“You look at what’s going on in our nation, and you know that it can happen to anyone anywhere. We want to provide our teachers and our administration with as much information as possible were something like that to happen in our schools,” Jones said.
She said the district does not encourage or discourage teachers from getting concealed carry permits, but many district staff have permits.
The district holds trainings one time every school year. They take place with advance notice on professional development days. Although all teachers are required to participate in the training and the drills, they can walk away if they ever feel uncomfortable during the drill, Jones said.
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A district spokesperson said six students were removed from an area in the school as police conducted a search.