School shootings have become a disturbing reality in Northeast Ohio and beyond. Since the Sandy Hook shooting, Ohio school districts are taking new steps to keep kids safe, including intensive training for school staff to carry guns in schools.
Fox 8 News reporter Matt Wright had exclusive access to a three-day FASTER (Faculty/Administrator Safety Training & Emergency Response) course, in which school employees learned to confront a potential school shooter and eliminate the threat. Participants, including a superintendent, teachers, principals and a school bus driver, prepared for a potential school shooting situation in which every decision counts.
“I’m not a gun advocate. I didn’t even own a gun,” said Amber, an elementary school principal from Southeastern Ohio, who did not want her last name or school’s name used, as her school board has still not decided whether or not to arm teachers. A group of several administrators from the district attended the training and were set to report back.
“It was that my own children go to my building, and I had to think about them as well as all the other ones, and I thought, ya know I want somebody to protect them,” she said.
The course culminates with force-on-force training: a series of drills and scenarios involving gunmen. Scenarios included an angry father confronting a teacher, an active shooter in the gym and a parent pulling a gun in the school office.
Participants use airsoft pistols and switch roles each time. They must decide how to proceed, including giving orders and calling 911. In some cases, they shoot the gunman, while in others they prevent the gunman from taking his own life. A debrief follows, with certified gun instructors critiquing performance.
“I’ve been a full-time police officer for 13 years, SWAT for 12 and I know I cannot respond fast enough, that we need someone in the building that can take care of the threat,” instructor Andrew Blubaugh said.
The FASTER course starts with classroom training on topics including shooters’ mindsets, gun handling and medical care. The course ends on the shooting range, where participants must pass strict qualifications.
“It was intense,” said Walt, the superintendent from the Southeastern Ohio school district that sent its administrative team. “It was very intense, but it has to be in order for you to take it seriously.”
For years, Ohio law has prohibited guns on school grounds unless a school district authorizes specific individuals, including staff, to carry a gun. Individual districts can decide on required training as part of their confidential safety plans. Interest in FASTER and other courses took off following the Sandy Hook shooting.
“I think if people knew how common it was they would be shocked by it,” FASTER Director Jim Irvine said.
Irvine estimates that dozens of Ohio school districts already have armed staff. While the FASTER course is free to school employees, many districts, including those of some course participants, remain reluctant to allow staff to carry guns.
“Armed protection is not controversial. Our president’s kids have them; CEOs have them; Hollywood celebrities have them,” Irvine said. “They pay a lot of money for people to make them safer.”
Irvine argued the course is one of many ways districts can prepare for a gunman, and staff members can often respond faster than police or a school resource officer located in another building on a school’s campus.
“I do still have reservations. It’s a lot of responsibility,” Amber said. “I know that if anything ever happened, I would have to deal with the aftermath… I think the benefit would outweigh that risk.”
While the staff members hope they’ll never have to use their training, they said they’ll be ready.
“Whether or not our school district proceeds with this, I just think it’s been a very eye-opening experience, and I think it’s very beneficial,” Amber said.
Ohio isn’t the only state that allows armed school staff. Each has its own specific rules. Utah, for instance, allows anyone with a concealed carry permit, including school staff, to carry a gun in school buildings.