Down a long, remote gravel road in rural Central Ohio, more than a dozen educators and school employees arrive early on a Saturday morning recently after making the most difficult decision of their careers.
“It’s definitely been a lot of heavy thinking,” said a Cleveland area teacher who asked to only be identified as Cory.
They’ll be learning how to stop an active killer and also properly carry a firearm at school through a non-profit 501C-3 program called FASTER Saves Lives, which stands for Faculty Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response.
The program was created by concerned parents and John Benner after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012.
At the time, Benner was training school resource officer nationally for NASRO, the National Association of School Resource Officers.
Director Jim Irvine says, that’s when he realized that the school staff needed to be trained and carrying weapons, because they were the only ones there when the shootings began, and law enforcement response times can vary greatly depending on location.
“The thing most people don’t understand is the timeline on these events,” said Irvine, “The killing continues until either the killer quits or he is stopped.”
The training was designed by nationally recognized law enforcement, weapons and medical experts and is free to applicants who are approved by their district.
“We train people who have permission from the school and the school sends them to us,” said Irvine.
A growing number of church employees and congregation members are also enrolling in the program.
They must have a conceal carry permit before starting the program and complete a one day FASTER gun course, which was modeled after the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy.
Program Director Joe Eaton says, they learn important skills like, “how to draw from a holster, how to shoot one handed, how to shoot weak hand ed and shooting while moving.“
The qualification standards are higher than both the U.S. Army’s basic marksmanship and Ohio police officers. To pass, they must shoot with 93% accuracy.
Once that course is complete they begin a 3 days and 27 hours of emotionally and physically grueling scenario based instruction, where they learn military style tactics and also how to de-escalate a situation.
But they say, the traumatic care medical training is perhaps most important of all.
“The vast majority of these events are over before any law enforcement get inside and even longer before medics can enter a building,” said Irvine, “According to the most recent statistics 90% of people shot with firearms survive, unless you’re in a school the death rate is 5 times higher.”
Irvine says, in many cases the victims “bleed out” before help can arrive so the teachers and staff are given “trauma care” medical kits and taught skills like how to apply a tourniquet.
After learning that, Berkshire locals superintendent John Stoddard says, his district is currently considering the program as part of a multi-layered and continually evolving security plan.
“We want people to know we’re gonna do whatever we need to do to keep our kids safe,” said Stoddard.
And he’s not alone. After the recent mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, FL FASTER has been overwhelmed by districts across the country who interested in signing up.
That’s on top of already training 1,300 employees in over 200 districts from 12 states.
But not everyone supports the program or arming teachers.
Thousands opposed to guns marched across the country as part of the March for Our Lives and the National Education Association has also come out against arming teachers.
Former Chardon Football Coach Frank Hall is also against it.
In 2012 the coach chased a shooter from Chardon High School after 3 students were killed and several others hurt.
Since then Coach Hall has started a foundation in an effort to get trained and armed School Resource Officers’s in every building across the country.
“Teachers are nurturers by nature, we don’t want them having to make that decision,” said Hall who was also a deputy sheriff at one time, “If I had one I don’t know if I could’ve done it.”
Irvine responded saying, “The vast majority of school staff want nothing to do with carrying a gun and there’s nothing wrong with that- they’re good people but there’s also nothing wrong those who will respond.”
Training and range hours continue for teachers once they are at home. They must maintain qualifications just like police officers and in many cases begin training with them.
According to Irvine, one of their trained teachers in Arapaho County Colorado was able to disarm a student without ever using force or anyone getting hurt.