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Local teachers train to handle active shooters

The first group of 200 Ohio teachers were trained on Thursday about how to handle an active shooter situation in a school and hundreds more have signed up for upcoming classes.

Two of the February classes are in the Dayton and Cincinnati areas.

Interest in the classes has grown since the December shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which teachers, school staff members and 20 students were killed by a gunman. The courses teach ways educators can prevent shootings and save lives once a shooter enters a school.

The classes by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy are free for teachers and school staff.

James Burke, the instructor for the active shooting courses offered to teachers, is a former instructor for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department. He has worked for the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy since May 2012. He leads the four-hour trainings which focus on weapon-free techniques to stop active shooters — from identifying students as potential shooters to what to do once a shooter is in the classroom.

Burke said, at that point, “You have to fight.”

Active-shooter incidents last, on average, only seven minutes and a round is fired every 15 seconds.

Burke suggested several tactics for facing an active shooter:

  • Lock as many doors as possible and barricade doors with chairs, desks and bookcases.
  • Plan for a building-wide lockdown with exceptions for areas where students and staff can escape through windows and emergency doors.
  • Distract the shooter by throwing objects to make time for students to escape.

“Stab him with a pair of scissors — do whatever you need to do but you need to think about it beforehand.” Burke said. “I’m not telling you have to be ninjas and disarm people, but you’ve got to do something.”

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said his office began preparing the courses after a school shooting in Chardon in northeast Ohio last year. DeWine said interest in the courses has been “heavy” since announced last month and more sessions will be added.

DeWine said educators are the first responders in shooting situations and the classes are one tool, not the solution.

“It’s all about knowledge, it’s all about information,” DeWine said at the workshop. “We don’t pretend that one course is going to stop this in the future but we all have an obligation to do whatever we can to identify young people who have mental health problem and try to get them help and try to get them assistance.”

The course drew on what happened before and during mass shootings at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech University and in Chardon. In the examples, the shooters were men, ages 14-20, with a troubled home life, mental health problems and few close friends. Burke said not all shooters meet the profile, but looking for risk factors can help stop a shooter early in his or her plans.

The National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime says 93 percent of school shooters planned the attack in advance.

“Above all, we have to stop these shootings before — not to label them, not to profile them, not to punish them, but to help them if we can. And if we can’t help them, to make everyone in the building aware of the issues we’re seeing and law enforcement aware of the issues and counselors aware of the issues,” Burke said.

DeWine said student privacy laws deserve another look when safety is at risk.

“Sometimes we end up with a situation where we have a student who is 18 years of age, who is an adult, and the information about them that a school, particularly a college, might have is being withheld from parents,” DeWine said. “I think we need to rethink this.”

Educators who attended Thursday’s sessions said they planned to encourage others in their schools and districts to attend sessions in the next month.

Tim Johnson, assistant principal at Kettering Middle School, said every teacher should know what is taught in the course and he plans to share the information with other Kettering administrators as part of their efforts to make schools safer. He said he was struck by how many different people were aware of a shooter’s mental health problems, plans or other warning signs and didn’t communicate.

Johnson said Kettering school officials meet with the police department once a month to exchange information about students. He also said students are now more open to tell an adult when they notice something strange about a classmate.

“It may have gone a little too far but that’s OK — I’d rather look into something that turns out to be nothing than not look into something that turns out bad,” Johnson said.

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