A school security expert and career law enforcement officer said a vital piece of the puzzle missing in the national debate over school shootings is training students on how to survive an incident.
Jesus Villahermosa, a former deputy and S.W.A.T Team member with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department in Washington state, told STN that many schools continue to train students to "duck and cover" in the event of a shooting, a technique developed in the 1950s to protect against an atomic bomb or during an earthquake.
“(Students) are being told a teacher will protect them,” he added, pointing out that no teacher can be seen in any student cellphone video taken during the Parkland, Florida shooting. “Good luck because that isn’t working.”
He agreed with the National Association of School Resource Officers that certified law enforcement officers who are trained specifically to work with students should be placed in every campus across America. However, he admitted that is now a tougher sell because of Scot Peterson, the Broward County Sheriff's deputy who resigned from the department after being suspended and drawing national criticism for failing to engage Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz.
But arming teachers is not the solution.
“This guy had 33 years of experience yet still froze,” Villahermosa observed. “What do you think will happen to a teacher?”
He also pointed to statistics that indicate police shootings result in an 85-percent miss ratio. Allowing teachers to carry guns despite never being in law enforcement or the military, which require ongoing live-fire tactical training, would most likely result in far worse. They would likely shoot another student instead.
The potential for collateral damage increases on a school bus. Villahermosa has trained school bus drivers nationwide, such as at the 2017 STN EXPO, on how to survive active shooter scenarios. He said he knows for a fact that some of these drivers are already packing, regardless if their supervisors and administrations know it or not.
He said a bus driver opening fire on a shooter would most likely result in the driver being shot first, or errant bullets ricocheting inside the steel bus and striking innocent students, if not hitting them outright. If a bus driver is lucky enough to only shoot the perpetrator, Villahermosa said the shot would likely be at such a close range that the bullet could pass through the body and still strike another student.
The school bus driver could suddenly be facing a manslaughter charge despite best intentions, and a school district could be liable for millions in resulting lawsuits.
Instead, Villahermosa recommended that bus drivers are better off using evasive maneuvers such as swerving and sudden braking to disorient and even disarm an onboard shooter.
First, Villahermosa said schools need to shift their focus away from how their teachers and staff respond to active shooters. Rather than training students to huddle in the middle of classrooms or at the back of the bus, students need to be given the ability and permission to escape the classroom, hallway or bus by any means necessary.
“That doesn’t mean we’re going to run bus drills with kids bailing out of windows, but we have to have the conversation of what to do and where to go,” he explained. “Policy, procedure and protocol go out the window in emergency situations. We need to give them permission to be uncivil, otherwise they're going to follow the rules and die as a result.”
Allowing students to take matters into their own hands includes providing then with a safe place to report another student they see with a weapon or who they've heard may be planning an attack. This requires adults at school and throughout the community to build a better rapport with the students. No one is better able to do this or is already as successful at it than school bus drivers, he said.
“Why aren’t we teaching kids what to do?” Villahermosa added. “We’ve got to change what we're doing here.”
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