I walked out of an active shooter training today.
I arrived at the school in the morning to find the hustle and bustle that accompany any county-wide training. We were given classroom assignments ahead of time. I was wearing a blue shirt to signal that I was playing the part of a student. There were policeman and administrators running to and fro behind the office counter. It was like peaking into back stage at a broadway production, frantic.
This is the second training of this nature to be held in my school district. I took a sick day during the first training because no one could give me a definite answer on what the contents of the training would be. Administration told me that they were pretty sure there would be no gunfire, or if there was it would just be to hear what it would sound like.
I didn’t like the lack of confidence. Some teachers described nightmarish sounding drills that they had been to in other schools where teachers were asked to actively evade or fight an actor who was let loose in the school with a blank rifle or handgun. The thought of being subject to that filled me with dread.
I had the same misgivings about this training, but we were given much more information ahead of time. We were told by administration that there would be no firearms and no gunfire. We were told that there would be no physical contact or risk of injury. We were told that the initial drill would only take a few minutes, and then afterward we would break into informational discussion sessions. I still felt a twisting in my gut every time someone mentioned the upcoming training, but I talked myself into attending because of the restrictions that were supposedly in place.
On the day of the training, as soon as I entered my assigned classroom, I was handed a liability waiver. The waiver released the company hosting the training from liability in the event of “injury, illness, or even death.” We also were asked to sign away the right to sue for negligence or injury on behalf of our “heirs.” The waiver asked us to “voluntarily agree to participate” in the training.
I watched in horror as everyone around me absent-mindedly signed the contracts and returned them. I expressed my misgivings to the teacher next to me. “Aren’t you worried about all of the loss of life wording?”
“See, I didn’t notice that until you said something.” He looked down at the paper, thought a moment, and shrugged his shoulders. “I’m a risk taker,” he said with a smile.
I called over the teacher whose room I was seated in, “I’m not signing this.”
She simply said “ok,” and then walked toward the hallway. She asked another teacher what to do “about the ones that won’t sign.” And she asked if they “had a place to put them yet.”
A random assortment of people explained the waiver away. “It’s just in case you twist your ankle running,” one said. “I heard someone fell and hit their head once during one of these trainings,” another said. “I bet if you had a heart condition,” a third didn’t finish the thought.
My phone buzzed. “Did you sign this?” Another teacher asked. “Not yet,” I typed.
I waited a minute to find out what would be happening to me while the drill was conducted, when the morning announcements came on, and the principal of the elementary school provided a general overview of the training.
“Good morning,” he said. “Today we will be doing an active shooter training. That waiver is no big deal, it was approved by the union, so if you just sign it we can all get started. Anyway, the actors from the company hosting the simulation will be coming around here in a minute. We will be simulating gunfire with air horns, so if you hear those, that’s gunfire. If you see any explosives, don’t worry, they’re just simulated.”
I didn’t hear anything else. I grabbed my unsigned liability waiver and walked out of the room.
As I wound through the hallway, I saw the same law enforcement types from earlier. There were at least four, and they were each dressed for combat. Some of them had their faces covered. They were carrying rifles. I couldn’t tell if they were real rifles with or airsoft replicas.
My heart was racing. I have a conditions linked to stress and anxiety that causes my heart to skip beats and beat irregularly. I walked to the front desk. The superintendent of the school district was there. I must’ve looked a mess. I was shaky and incoherent. I just kept repeating “I can’t do the training.” I pushed the paper across the counter and pulled it back just to repeat the action and the words again.
“I’m going to ask that you take a personal day,” he told me.
I repeated myself again, “I can’t do the training.”
“Ok, well I’ll need you to take a personal day and leave.”
“Can I come back for the informational part?”
“What informational part?”
“After the drill. The informational discussion part.”
“The drill is happening throughout the day.”
“Okay? He looked at his watch. “Well, we have other stuff to do.” He waved his hand for me to leave. I snapped out of my panic, and walked outside into the cool morning. I took several deep breaths before I started walking through the parking lot.
I pulled out my phone and texted my friend from earlier, “I left.”
The phone buzzed quickly, “so did I. I’m getting a ride back with someone else.”
“Another teacher left?” I asked.
“Yes.” She replied.
Back at the school, we put our heads together to figure out what, if anything could be done about what we’d experienced.
We contacted the union, which told us that “we needed to meet with the board of education.” They didn’t offer to spring into action, but they offered legal advice, and they offered to contact their attorneys on our behalf, which was a comfort.
We each entered our personal time in the automated computer system, and then went our separate ways.
More information about the training trickled through text messages the remainder of the day. One woman fell to the ground during the simulation. Her face was marked with road burn, and she injured her wrist and was taken to a local hospital. Teachers were also reportedly whipped into frenzy, shoving or trampling one another.
I think it’s a shame that all this energy, and presumably money, was spent on these drills when there is very little evidence that these drills help in the face of an actual event. The only real studies that I could find online seem to suggest that people who receive this training perform worse during a real active shooter scenario.
But apart from effectiveness, I think that these drills are so far beyond what is reasonable to ask of a person in their work place. Just imagine any other workplace asking their employees to dress in blue shirts so they can be easily identifiable targets for a man dressed in combat fatigues. Imagine if your employer started your morning by announcing “safe words for today’s training.” Imagine being put in a situation where you may be trampled by your co-workers on a Monday morning. Then imagine you are asked to sign away the right to hold anyone liable for your injuries. Then imagine being told that “it’s all been cleared with the union, so it’s OK.”
It’s not a reasonable demand on someone whose job is to educate children. Safety is the job of the district, not of the classroom teacher.
The front of my school building is glass. My classroom has two doors. Each of them are made of oak, and I believe they are original to the building (the school was founded in 1913 but is cobbled from multiple buildings). The top two thirds of that door is glass, and the knob has a hole for a skeleton key just above it. The campus itself is completely open. Students travel back and forth between buildings each class period. There is a public sidewalk that trails right through the middle of the courtyard. There are magnetic locks on the exterior doors, but those doors are made of glass as well. Each of the buildings have ground floor windows that are at least five feet high.
This training represents an attempt to appear to do something about the problem of safety without expending any capital. It causes the teachers post-traumatic stress without making them, in reality, safer. If the federal government, and individual school districts are truly concerned about student safety, they would make money available for the installation of infrastructure. I would feel much better about my odds if I had steel shutters over my doors that I could lock in place in the event of a threat. I would feel better if my door wasn’t made of oak trim and glass. I would feel better if my second floor room had an escape ladder. I would feel better if every school in the county didn’t share a single resource officer. I would feel better if the resource officer at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas had stopped that shooter.
But we aren’t really concerned about safety, or at least we are more concerned about money.
I entered the profession to teach children, to serve as a mentor to those without mentors, and to provide love and guidance to students who need it. I didn’t become a teacher to shield children with my body. I love my kids, and I would protect them, with my life if needed, but that love shouldn’t be exploited because of short-sightedness. During an active shooter scenario, I will never believe that a teacher with training is better off than a teacher with a boundary.