Sandy Hook Viewpoint: Should Teachers Be Trained in Counterterrorism?

Is shielding children now as essential a part of teachers’ portfolios as educating children is?

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Julio Cortez / AP

Officials work at the scene of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., on Friday, Dec. 14.

Before Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday morning and murdered 20 children and six adults, my sister was already a teacher on edge and in mourning. The night before, in the parking lot of her high school in the Pacific Northwest, a 16-year-old student from her first-period class shot and killed himself. Three months earlier, her school had been forced to close for a day after a former student made a threat on social media to “open fire on people in the commons in the morning until I am either taken down by the school’s police officer, or until I run out of [ammunition].”

He was arrested before he could do any harm. Still, my sister’s experiences are one more reminder of the outsize specter gun violence has become for educators. Rampage killers target schools in order to deliver that worst-of-all blow to society’s gut, the massacre of children. But I’ve covered a number of school shootings, starting with Laurie Dann’s 1988 spree at Hubbard Woods Elementary School outside Chicago, and I’m all too aware of a daunting reality that confronts teachers like my sister — and my wife and my mother. On the one hand, they’re as vulnerable as their pupils; on the other hand, they’re the only first line of defense between kids and killers.

(MORE: Sandy Hook Shooting: Why Did Lanza Target a School?)

That was the case at Sandy Hook, where teachers were credited with quick thinking that saved children’s lives. Administrators are under increasing pressure today to put metal detectors and other expensive measures in place that we think will keep armed monsters out of our schools. But as we saw at Sandy Hook, which had recently ramped up its security infrastructure, they hardly make schools impregnable — and school shootings, meanwhile, seem to have become as frequent as science fairs. Which, as long we lack the national spine to confront the gun lobby, raises a depressing but urgent question: Is shielding children now as essential a part of teachers’ portfolios as educating children is? If so, are we training teachers as effectively as we should to keep both students and themselves out of the line of fire — or even step up and confront their attackers — until the SWAT team arrives?

The core of the preparation teachers have increasingly been getting since the 1999 Columbine massacre is the lockdown drill — and Sandy Hook teachers, like those who reportedly scanned the hallways and swiftly pulled wandering students into their classrooms, had obviously been exposed to it. The procedures that schools like my sister’s and my wife’s have in place are much more involved than fire drills, and they would seem effective. A code alert from the principal’s office, usually via a PA system; the hallway scan, followed by locking doors and covering door windows; turning out lights while herding students into a corner or closet away from windows and telling them to stay silent; then sending e-mail alerts accounting for students who might be in the bathroom or some other area.

(MORE: Funerals at Christmastime: The Tragedy of Sandy Hook Village)

My sister’s principal, a woman who has put a lot of careful thought into this matter — to the extent that she doesn’t post on her high school’s website any school-building maps that potential attackers could study — tells me it’s largely about conditioning teachers “to know where everything is in every climate they inhabit at a school.” And I’ll second her assertion that teachers are willing to master civil defense along with pedagogy “because they go into this profession in the first place to make the world better for kids.”

But while the lockdown approach works well when you’ve got kids sitting in front of you, it’s less operative when a school’s occupants are scattered about— meaning a big part of the day. What’s the procedure when a gunman appears, Grendel-like, while students are exposed in the open: changing classes, eating lunch or ambling to the library like ducklings following a mother mallard? Even when students are gathered in class, a gunman can often move faster than the lockdown sequence, which is why Lanza was able to massacre 20 first-graders — and a teacher who only had enough time to throw herself in front of her kids — in two classrooms. So how, at all, do we train teachers and staff to respond when lockdown isn’t applicable?

(MORE: 20 Brighter Stars: Shocked Connecticut Town Mourns Its Slain Children)

Should teacher orientation include the sort of counterterrorism training we give flight crews today? My sister points out that few if any school systems would assume the legal liability of instructing teachers how to disarm or subdue a shooter. Don’t be a hero, school boards tell them by default. And yet, from Hubbard Woods to Sandy Hook, the raw heroism of teachers — who, like Sandy Hook principal and Lanza murder victim Dawn Hochsprung, did confront attackers — has saved countless lives, often by buying everyone else time to hide or escape. When teachers have no recourse, should we give them more to draw on than adrenaline?

My first instinct is to say no. Flight crews accept security as a central part of their job, but we’re stepping into very dark territory as a society when we expect teachers to be Navy SEALs. And I’m certainly disturbed when politicians — like U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas, who this weekend suggested that Hochsprung should have “had an M-4” rifle in her office — propose that teachers pack heat. Then again, the only alternative we might have at this point is to post the educational equivalent of an armed air marshal in every school. Why shouldn’t my wife and her second-graders enjoy the same peace of mind that I and my fellow airline passengers do?

My wife, sister and mother are three of the best teachers in the business. Yet here they are again this weekend, like millions of their colleagues, pondering not how to edify their students but how to shelter them. It’s not what they signed up for — but it’s what the rest of us are now going to have to sign up to solve.

MORE: Am I Safe? Talking to Your Kids About the Sandy Hook School Shooting
MORE: A Town of Broken Hearts: How Newtown Residents Cope with Grief

60 comments
ShamsAci
ShamsAci

No, teachers being regarded as spiritual parents, counter terrorism should not suit them at all, rather it should be the task of the Government itself.

dontn123
dontn123

Only if teacher would like to be armed....in which case the teacher would have to practice with first responders so they are not mistaken for an active criminal shooter when first responders arrive.  Give the teachers and school staffs a choice.  Granted no matter what - the CRIMINALS  will still try.  Therefore all we can do is try to protect the currently FREE FIRE ZONES from Criminals going unopposed it is a game of Chess.  VERY COMPLEX

SueKlawitter
SueKlawitter

sueklawitter@ymail.com ;  Teachers have enough to do just teaching their  classes, good teachers are nearly impossible to  find, we can not expect them be trained to pick out the terrorist, the kids being bullied, or the kid being the bully. Next time your on your way to work, look out your car window, or on the subway, you pick out the terrorist, the bully, the burglar. It sure is easy to add to someone else job, and not know how they could have missed that.

EricSchiffer
EricSchiffer

Still praying for the victims of this tragedy. Especially the little children. You kids are in heaven now. I teach science to middle school students as a volunteer at Yale'sScience Education Outreach Program (SEOP) and it hurts me to hear about thesechildren's untimely passing. May you all rest in peace. - Eric Schiffer

jacki
jacki

ok so now we have the religous nut jobs to weed thru  I believe in GOD  I do not believe in self rightous BS some of you should be ashamed of using this issue to further your insanity and closed minded point of view  IT make me sick

GusKohn
GusKohn

I live in Australia ,where we have gun control,and no child was murdered in a school in living memory and we achieved without combat training for teachers. makes you think

jokemesick
jokemesick

I absolutely support arming the teachers with guns and grenades. All schools must have police personnel patrolling the halls during school hours. Repeal the minimum age for gun possession. Train every kid from kindergarten upwards how to shoot a gun. It's the parents' responsibility to make sure that kids don't forget to take their guns to school. Gun manufacturers and dealers should ofer deep discounted group buys to schools. Every child should have a gun - no child left behind!

BenGonzalez
BenGonzalez

Its so sad that things like that happen.  The worst time when kids are exposed to danger are before school, during lunch , after school,and during drills.They are the safest when the are in their classrooms. Yet awful things like this happens when least expected.Since guns are not allowed on school grounds by the people that need them the most I believe that the faculty should have quick access to Bear pepper spray to disable an attacker from a distance. Sounds ridiculous but if it can stop a bear why not a human...

Thepreachteach
Thepreachteach

Wow- so true and so unfortunately real. Our schools bathrooms have no doors or locks, some doors only lock from the outside- so many logistics just don't suffice for that type of situation.  And then, what about subs? They surely will be in the building too. Schools will be built different in the future, and trainings and certifications will certainly be beefed up.  Scary and sad!!!

cptofthehouse
cptofthehouse

Every and any person, not just teachers, should look around his/her surroundings and have some plan as to what to do if something terrible should happen.  I'm not sure if just locking those classroom doors and hiding in a corner is such a great idea, as a weapon would force the lock open in an instant just as the shooter so got into Sandy Hook School and everyone would be sitting ducks, literally.  Not much cover a teacher can give 20 kids when faced with an automatic weapon.  Better they opened a window and made a run for it.

JenniferBonin
JenniferBonin

Precisely what sort of "counterterrorism training" would have helped the teacher who "only had enough time to throw herself in front of her kids"?  Seriously, it wouldn't have mattered if that teacher was trained and had a gun in her purse, since she didn't have the TIME to react any differently.  The element of surprise will ALWAYS be on the attacker's side, in situations like this.  Which means the first teacher(s) to run across the attacker are likely to act as a tripwire, warning the rest of the school but not able to protect themselves or their students very well.  I don't really see any way around that, I'm afraid.

jellymaker
jellymaker

Think about the 10's of thousands of needless abortions every year, but no politician will address the issue.  Think about how insurance companies seldom provide coverage for mental illness, but cover the cost of  Viagra.  The real issue is the moral decay of our country and the loss of a family structure.

jellymaker
jellymaker

Think about the protection we afford our politicians, judges,banks/money, and then think about how we protect our schools.

alex.watson1411
alex.watson1411

I am from Newtown, CT. I am in seventh grade. We just want things to go back to normal.I have many wakes to attend. These things don't happen often. Teacher training won't prevent them. It is s tradgedy that some teachers had to gothrough this, i know what great teachers they were but most teachers will never have to go through this.

MarlenaMontagna
MarlenaMontagna

Of COURSE teacher training should include counter-terrorism tactics. We are not safe, people. Our children are no longer safe in their schools. We need to equip teachers, administration, the janitorial staff, ANY adult in the building as much as possible. Can it totally prevent tragedy? Of course not. Can it help keep a tragedy from becoming worse than the gunman intended--YES.

Smiling1809
Smiling1809

Teachers aren't paid enough to deal with this stuff. I am guessing that fewer and fewer people will get into teaching with the blatant disrespect/hatred this nation has for them, along with amazing scrutiny being placed on teachers for individual student success, even if the students do everything in their power not to be successful, and now this. Now teachers are expected to take down shooters and sacrifice their own  lives. I am still in the profession, and I love it with all of my heart, but I can see why young people would turn the other way and run from the profession.   It's gotten to the point where the profession has little to offer, but people who go into it have an incredible amount to lose.  

AndrewJones
AndrewJones

A few thoughts come to mind.

Some states like Michigan are elevating gun owners rights with CCW laws that would allow permit holders to carry weapons at schools. Because individuals would be granted this right there would be no notification required for parents. Whose rights are now infringed upon? Should parents not have the freedom to choose if they want their kids near firearms in the concealed possession of private citizens while being educated? This isn't like a brief passing of a permit holder in a park or store it is 7-8 hours a day in direct contact with an armed individual. 

We always hear that if only one person was armed that violence could be thwarted. There are examples of that scenario playing out that way where an armed person prevents a crime. Unfortunately this also leads to a question of competency and gives way to the potential of increased danger. What if the CCW holder is an incompetent person? What if he/she gets combat fear and aims wildly or gets shot first adding another weapon to the assailant's arsenal?

Wouldn't having retired policemen or active on duty policemen assigned to the property but away from direct contact with the children be a better option than expecting or allowing private citizens to take up arms given the level of risk and uncertainty? 

A large portion of the population would not feel comfortable with weapons in schools. That opens up a large can of worms as there would be the potential for boycotts and litigation. There would be liability issues, insurance risk and if it all goes wrong with an accidental death who will be footing the legal bills? The individual or the taxpayers?

My opinion is that we aim for the best preventative measures we can while shying away from having armed teachers roaming the halls. If that means more security, metal detectors, police on campuses etc... so be it but no guns on the staff responsible for education. We can't stop every tragedy...

sora
sora

As a teacher, I love working with children, but really I'm beginning to wonder if there is anyone in America brave enough and strong to be a teacher.  I've always been in awe of my colleagues who teach in Primary schools.  At least in Secondary, we don't have to deal with toilet training on top of everything else that society is demanding from teachers.  Personally, I draw the line at cleaning up puke or any other bodily emissions as a part of being a teacher.  And now, you want to add gun toting to the list?  It's not enough that teachers are (universally it seems) underpaid, overworked, endlessly abused, held to a higher standard (for example, I've just been through a police record check that Australia requires on regular basis from teachers - not that I have anything to worry about, it's just annoying to be forced to pay from my own pockets to prove - over and over - that I haven't committed any crime).  

I was tremendously impressed by the teachers at Sandy Hook elementary for their courage and willingness to sacrifice their own safety, even their life, for their students.  I can't quite imagine how this would have played out if one or more these teachers were armed.  At best, they and the students would have to deal with having a killer among their midst - in the role of a teacher, a person meant to guide students to better ways to live.  At worst, imagine an OK corral like shoot out at the school.  

Do you really want your children being taught by someone holding a gun?  Someone who has used that gun to kill a person?  Is this who you want as teachers for your children?  Guns for teachers is not the answer for safer schools.  Instead of more guns, try thinking of less guns.  As in no guns for the likes of Lanzo.  

In Australia, we have to register not only guns but even our pets - I recently received a leaflet from my local council, reminding me that ownership of a cat or dog must be registered, otherwise I would be fined.  Yet American society can't even agree that it is possible, that it is necessary, to register ownership of guns.  That ownership and use of guns should be restricted and limited because guns are dangerous.  When used by dangerous individuals, which you are always going to have.  Since you can't reduce the one, you need to reduce the access to the other.

lwgj
lwgj

It has been suggested in another blog that arming the teachers is a bad idea. What if a teacher had a bad day and used the gun on the students? True. that would be bad. But how about having a few communal guns strategically located, locked up and secured, accessible only when two (or three) unique keys together can be used to opened the lock, and each key separately carried by different employees of the school so that no single one school employee could access the gun by himself or herself ?Just brainstorming for a better school defense system in a world already filled with guns in the wrong hands......

bobajob
bobajob

Why bother? This is just collateral damage in support of the 2nd Amendment, isn't it? In return for the legal right to bear arms and have millions of cheap guns and ammunition available you have to accept a certain amount of casualties.  A few of these a year in exchange for the right to bear arms is chickenfeed in a population of millions. It doesn't matter how many of these there are, the 50% of Americans who own guns aren't going to give them up for it. After all, if you asked the Chairman of the NRA if he'd give up his legal right to weapons in exchange for those children being returned to life, you know what he'd say. He'll make nice noises about the awful tragedy and then get on with pushing the agenda of opening up wider gun ownership. I just wish they weren't such hypocrites about it. Tell America that this is just acceptable losses in return for the individual right to bear arms, and you might get some self-respect back.

EaglesPain
EaglesPain

It's too late to "regulate" weapons, there are well over 300 million available to the citizenry at a moment's notice. So, what's left? Confiscation? I've got a foreboding that there will still be plenty lying on the ground if that law passes. The genie is out of the bottle folks, let's think of getting the perpetrators before they get us.

JamesBond
JamesBond

@dr.victorpena - Would making it more difficult for civilians to obtain guns not help reduce these incidents (i.e. tougher checks and requirements to obtain guns)? In Sandy Hook, the killer did not have a history of violence and obtained the guns from his mother, also a law abiding citizen who happened to have an armory at home (for what purpose is just incomprehensible). It seems like most of these mass murderers are not career criminals, but people who have not had a history of violence. Perhaps the killer could still obtain guns off the black market, but I just can't help but think it would be that much harder for them to do that. However, I respect your opinion and think you make some sensible suggestions, with perhaps armed officers at schools.

dr.victorpena
dr.victorpena

Having people continually blame guns for the recent incidents at our schools and pushing for tougher gun laws is concerning to me. Although guns have been the tool most often used in the United States due to their capacity to quickly and efficiently end life as well as their availability, the issue here is the individual holding the weapon. Take for instance the recent "slashing" incident in Japan where 22 children were assaulted by a knife yielding maniac. Even though the assailant did not choose to end innocent lives in this incident, any weapon can be used in place of a gun just as easily. Lets be realistic about this. What kind of gun law could realistically stop tragic incidents such as the one at Sandy Hook, Columbine, or Virginia Tech. Even if guns did not exist, could we have been able to prevent these people from not completing these horrific acts. A more realistic solution is to increase police presence in our schools. In my community, most schools do not even have a single armed officer. This is specially true of elementary schools. Lets have SOME of our teachers licensed to carry a concealed weapon and strategically place them throughout the schools. History has shown that human nature can often take an evil form, and thinking that limiting guns through legislature is the solution is a concept acceptable only to the gullible and benighted. Just my humble opinion.

JamesBond
JamesBond

@JackWhite - Actually there are lots of regulations to reduce car accidents. You are really not making the right comparison between death by car accidents and being gunned down in the classroom; not in America. When you drive your car, you take the acceptable and reasonable risk that you could get into a car accident - so you learn to drive safely, go under speed limits etc. As a teacher or a student, I don't think any person thinks it is an acceptable nor reasonable risk to be gunned down in the classroom.

jacki
jacki

OMG  shut up  you are a moron

alex.watson1411
alex.watson1411

I agree, I am from Newtown Middle School, just walking distance from sandy hook school. If ANYTHING could've been done to save the children I would want to see it done. Let the politicians who have lived their lives die instead of the chilren only five years old who have barely started theirs

alex.watson1411
alex.watson1411

Prayers for my town. Prayers for little Jack Pinto, another angel in heaven. He was a amazing, fun-loving boy. Newtown is healing together. We will come togther stronger. Pray for us, and the new angels in heaven.

MarlenaMontagna
MarlenaMontagna

And there's a big difference between training teachers to be "Navy SEALS" and giving them practical, real-world application techniques. Studies consistently show that the people most likely to survive an event like this are those that are trained and have skills to fall back on. That training alone can mean the difference between freezing in shock (I can't believe this is happening!) and acting (RUN! HIDE!). I was once in a Kmart in college when a gunman came in after shooting some people in the parking lot. I came face to face with him and his gun and, sad and somewhat ashamed as I am to admit it, I froze up. A split second later, a friend who was with me grabbed my arm and said RUN! We ran and hid. By the grace of God, he didn't want to shoot at me for some reason b/c otherwise, there's no way he would have missed. I stay aware now in public places. I know where the exits are. I know to hit the floor if I hear gun shots. I watch people and if I see arguments breaking out I get out of the way fast. I hope that, if it ever happens again, I don't freeze, especially when my kids are with me We ALL need to be prepared. We all need lessons in survival tactics and we all need to be aware in public places. The parents who lost kids Fri thought they were sending thier kids off to school on just another school day. They're from a small town, great school system, close-knit community--it happened THERE. It will happen anywhere.

Smiling1809
Smiling1809

@AndrewJones There really aren't any examples of it when it comes to these mass shootings. If there are, they are extraordinarily few and far between. Most gun men are taken down by unarmed people--like with the Tuscon shooting, or even flight 93.  Individual guns are more likely to be accidentally shot off by young children (often killing them)  in the home or used in a domestic dispute or suicide than they are to take down a mass shooter or even defend against an intruder in the home. 

Smiling1809
Smiling1809

@lwgj By the time someone got to the gun and found a way to use all of those keys, all while in full panic mode, then went to find the shooter, all the while putting themselves in harms way, the whole thing would be over. 

JimSage
JimSage

@bobajob I disagree. These children were heroes and not victims. They laid down their lives to defend our freedom to bear arms. Their deaths should not be mourned but celebrated, just like the soldiers of our revolution who gave their lives for our freedom.

porkx
porkx

simple, restrict possession to one single shot firearm per adult. possession of more than 3 rounds of ammo in conjunction with said weapon = intent to commit mayhem and a long stint in prison. death penalty for possession of firearms that do not meet the legal description.

sandifjm
sandifjm

@dr.victorpena As other posters have pointed out, it was China, and nobody died.  What do you think the outcome would have been had that attacker had access to assault rifles? You inadvertently made a very strong case for gun control.

porkx
porkx

It concerns you because you are an idiot. apparently you don't even know the difference between china and japan. and arming teachers at the same time as trying to bust their unions and turn them into miniumum wage workers might not be the best idea.

BigJoeJoe2012
BigJoeJoe2012

@MarlenaMontagna  

Unfortunately the situation requires more than just "training."  Until the perpetrators understand that they will be shot dead in the parking lot before they have a chance to murder any children, they will keep showing up, looking to kill.  Depending on an outside agency like the police department has not been working because the police eventually lose interest in posting one of their squad cars at a school for years on end.   In the meantime, teachers and students are being slaughtered while school boards debate the insurance risks.  Any school board member who refuses to arm their teachers should be fired for negligence.

lwgj
lwgj

don't you think those teachers and the principal who gave their lives deserved a better chance at defending the children and the school? They were already willing to put themselves in harms way. Arming the school in a responsible way may serve as a deterrent against anyone who felt inclined to commit such evil.  They may think twice if they knew the school is not exactly without teeth...

brianlev
brianlev

can we ban porn to help eliminate all the murders and sex crimes children are subjected, to or are we sacrificing them for ou freedom of speech?

alex.watson1411
alex.watson1411

I am from Newtown, Ct. I knew those children. How dare you say that. You didnt know them. They were little children, brothersand sisters of my friends and you have the heartlessness to say that they dont matter? That their deaths should'nt be mourned? You sicken me. They did'nt want to die. They went to school exicted to learn, exicted for christmas and to see their friends. They will never get to open their presents under the tree, go to prom, or graduation. They did'nt give their lives, they were taken brutally by a sick twisted mind. How dare you speak for them and say that we should celebrate their deaths? I am torn by the grief I have seen in the eyes of my best friend who lost her little sister and you dare say we celebrate? I am only 12 and I would've given my life in a heartbeat to save one of those poor children, to save my friends sister. We will remember them, mourn their deaths, because they were not soldiers, only small children with hopes and dreams that will never come true.

Smiling1809
Smiling1809

@JimSage @bobajob No they did not down their lives so that people could bear arms. The truth is, they were coldly and brutally sacrificed so people could hang on to their right to own assault rifles. 

kate1234
kate1234

@JimSage  You are absolutely disgusting. Those fully competent adult soldiers signed up to defend your freedoms, knowing that they might die in the process. These children did not. They did not lay down their lives for anyone. They were killed, horrendously.  You speak of them as if their deaths are simply the price that we must pay for our rights. Your comment is perverse and horrifying. 

EaglesPain
EaglesPain

@porkx How do you enforce that? Confiscation? Who has the huevos for that?

dr.victorpena
dr.victorpena

@porkx Now come on, that is just stupid and ignorant!

dr.victorpena
dr.victorpena

@porkx You are correct that the incident took place in China. This was a lapse in my memory. Your comments, however, are very interesting. Basically, I don't think anybody in this thread knows what you are talking about since you make NO SENSE at all. I really do not know what you just said or how you jumped from arming teachers, to unions, to wal-mart, to minimum wage. Your nescience is just comical but extremely entertaining. I am guessing you try to engage and insult people through tweeter and attempt to impose your beliefs to make up for all of the things lacking in your personal life. I am going to venture into guessing that you are uneducated, earning minimum wage yourself, with an IQ significantly below 70 and perhaps bordering on profound intellectually and developmentally delayed. Please do not trouble yourself with tweets and threads that are obviously beyond your skill level. May I suggest a subscription to Sesame Street or Nickelodeon where you can express and impose your beliefs on the uncultured and where your lack of logic would not make a difference. Good luck to you!

porkx
porkx

Well since you wingnuts all have such hard ons for constitutional originalism, hows about we restrict the definition of "arms" to the definition that was understood in 1789. A flintlock musket or rifle that holds one round and fires on about every third pull of the trigger. Barring that, maybe a $100 a bullet tax and a $10000 federal tax on the ownership of any weapon capable of receiving a magazine holding more than 3 rounds. Why not restrict the opportunity for mass murder to the wealthy, just like everything else in this country.

Smiling1809
Smiling1809

@dr.victorpena Seems like you are the one doing the insulting and making no sense. Could you at least make an attempt be intelligent enough to not insult people just because they say something you don't agree with?  

Maybe I shouldn't be feeding the trolls?

anonymousmama
anonymousmama

@dr.victorpena What porkx is saying, in "jumping from arming teachers to unions and minimum wage," is clear to anyone who reads a little recent history. If you pay someone poorly, and bust up the unions who advocate for better compensation, while making them responsible for providing quality instruction and a safe, terror-free environment (and meals and social direction and all manner of other services in loco parentis)--you end up with profoundly discouraged and angry workers. And then you want to give them a gun and put them in the same room with young children all day?  Thanks, but no thanks.


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