SCHOOLS

South Florida Sun-Sentinel Palm Beach (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD -

This is our first show,” said Paul Noe, who had come to sell a high-tech, ar­mored class­room door that, for the price of $4,000, he claimed could stop bul­lets, iden­tify the weapon, pho­to­graph the shooter and no­tify po­lice. The bright yel­low one they’d put on dis­play had been shot 57 times.

“We just re­leased it in the past cou­ple of months to be avail­able to schools, and we’ve been ob­vi­ously over­whelmed with in­ter­est,” said Monte Scott, who sells guns that fire balls packed with a po­tent pep­per mix­ture meant to dis­able a shooter. Scott had just re­turned from train­ing U.S. troops in Afghanistan on how to use the weapons in a com­bat zone.

Echo­ing a fre­quent re­frain at the expo, Justin Kuhn said his own chil­dren, not money, led him to found his com­pany, which pro­duces an elab­o­rate door-se­cu­rity and weapons-de­tec­tion sys­tem.

Al­though Kuhn ac­knowl­edged he didn’t know whether his new prod­uct would have stopped the at­tack at Stone­man Dou­glas, he had still tried to lever­age the blood­shed. Stand­ing next to his com­pany ’s 2,500-pound alu­minum-framed vestibule, he re­called a meet­ing in In­di­ana with one dis­trict’s head of school safety who had noted that the price tag for Kuhn’s en­tire sys­tem seemed steep.

“If you think $500,000 is ex­pen­sive, go down to Park­land, Flor­ida, and tell 17 peo­ple $500,000 is ex­pen­sive. That’s $29,000 a kid,” Kuhn re­called say­ing. “Ev­ery per­son would pay $29,000 a kid to have their kid alive.”

By this spring, Huff­man High in Birm­ing­ham, Alabama, had, in se­cu­rity par­lance, been “hard­ened,” a term that in re­cent years has mi­grated from anti-ter­ror­ism cir­cles to school board meet­ings. Sur­veil­lance cam­eras were mounted in­side and out, and Huff­man’s 1,370 stu­dents were pe­ri­od­i­cally checked for weapons, both with hand­held and walk-through metal de­tec­tors, ad­min­is­tra­tors say. Three re­source of­fi­cers pa­trolled the hall­ways.

But none of those mea­sures saved the life of Courtlin Ar­ring­ton, a se­nior who was about to leave school one af­ter­noon in March when a boy show­ing off a hand­gun un­in­ten­tion­ally fired it, send­ing a round through the girl’s chest two months be­fore her grad­u­a­tion.

How the weapon got into Huff­man re­mains un­clear — Ar­ring­ton’s fam­ily has sued the dis­trict, lim­it­ing what ad­min­is­tra­tors can say — but the in­ci­dent high­lights a theme that ap­pears through­out the sur­vey re­sponses: No amount of in­vest­ment in se­cu­rity can guar­an­tee a school pro­tec­tion from gun vi­o­lence.

Much of what can be done to pre­vent harm is be­yond any school’s con­trol be­cause, in a coun­try with more guns — nearly 400 mil­lion — than peo­ple, chil­dren are at risk of be­ing shot no mat­ter where they are. A 2016 study in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Medicine found that, among high-in­come na­tions, 91 per­cent of chil­dren younger than 15 who were killed by gun­fire lived in the United States.

But sev­eral ad­min­is­tra­tors did point to spe­cific steps that at least con­tained the at­tacks on their schools.

At Flor­ida’s For­est High in April, for ex­am­ple, teach­ers and teens who had un­der­gone safety train­ing locked class­room doors and bar­ri­caded them wi t h chairs and desks just sec­onds af­ter re­al­iz­ing that a man with a shot­gun was in the hall way. He fired through one door and wounded a stu­dent but sur­ren­dered shortly af­ter fail­ing to get in­side.

Seven of the 23 sur­veyed schools that had of­fi­cers at the time of their shoot­ings in­di­cated that they played a di­rect role in lim­it­ing the harm done. The Post’s anal­y­sis iden­ti­fied just one other case over the past 19 years in which a re­source of­fi­cer gunned down an ac­tive shooter. (To put that in per­spec­tive, at least seven shoot­ings in the same pe­riod were halted by mal­func­tion­ing weapons or by the gun­man’s in­abil­ity to han­dle them.)

While the mere pres­ence of the of­fi­cers may de­ter some gun vi­o­lence, The Post found that, in dozens of cases, it didn’t: Among the more than 225 in­ci­dents on cam­puses since 1999, at least 40 per­cent of the af­fected schools em­ployed an of­fi­cer.

Be­yond armed se­cu­rity or any other par­tic­u­lar safety mea­sure, sur­vey re­spon­dents em­pha­sized that noth­ing was more im­por­tant to min­i­miz­ing the vi­o­lence than prepa­ra­tion.

Last No­vem­ber, staff at Ran­cho Te­hama Ele­men­tary, a school in ru­ral North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, heard what sounded like gun­shots and hus­tled the chil­dren out­side into the build­ing. All stu­dents and staff had locked down, some­thing they reg­u­larly prac­ticed, 48 sec­onds af­ter a sec­re­tary called for it - and just 10 sec­onds be­fore a man with an AR-15-style ri­fle reached the quad. The gun­man, who had al­ready killed five peo­ple dur­ing his ram­page, fired more than 100 rounds, shat­ter­ing glass and tear­ing holes in walls.

He tried to en­ter class­rooms and the main of­fice, but all were se­cured. Six min­utes af­ter ar­riv­ing, he gave up and left, tak­ing his own life a short time later. One stu­dent, age 6, was wounded but sur­vived.

The school’s se­cu­rity plan worked “flaw­lessly,” wro t e Su­per­in­ten­dent Richard Fitz­patrick, but that didn’t di­min­ish the in­dig­na­tion he felt that his stu­dents and staff had suf­fered through the ter­ror - and that so lit­tle had been to done en­sure some­one else couldn’t at­tempt to do the same thing, there or at any other Amer­i­can school.

The at­tacker, who had been stripped of his guns by a judge, had built the weapons he used with parts, many of which are read­ily avail­able on­line.

Wi thout what Fitz­patrick called “sen­si­ble gun con­trol. ... We are largely pow­er­less from de­ter­mined shoot­ers with high-ca­pac­ity, high-ve­loc­ity, semi­au­to­matic as­sault ri­fles.”

The idea for Jor­dan Goudreau’s busi­ness came to him in Puerto Rico, where he had trav­eled to work in pri­vate se­cu­rity in the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Maria. Goudreau, a U.S. Army com­bat vet­eran, was mak­ing lots of money on the is­land, he said, but the new op­por­tu­nity was too en­tic­ing to pass up.

“I saw Park­land, and I was like, ‘Well, no­body’s re­ally tack­ling this, so I want to fix this,’ ” Goudreau ex­plained at the expo in Flor­ida, where the state leg­is­la­ture had just com­mit­ted more than a quar­ter-bil­lion dol­lars to school safety.

The so­lu­tion, Goudreau con­cluded, was to em­bed for­mer Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions agents, pos­ing as teach­ers, in­side schools. He ar­gued that the ben­e­fits over re­source of­fi­cers were ob­vi­ous.

First, be­cause the chil­dren wouldn’t know who his guys re­ally are (or that they’re armed and adept at coun­tert­er­ror­ism tac­tics), stu­dents would be more likely to open up, giv­ing agents a chance to glean in­for­ma­tion that could ex­pose a po­ten­tial threat.

Sec­ond, Goudreau said, his men all thrive in com­bat and could quickly snipe a shooter.

No schools had yet signed on for the pro­gram, and he still hadn’t worked out a num­ber of the busi­ness plan’s pre­cise de­tails, but Goudreau was cer­tain that he wanted to bill the par­ents of each stu­dent di­rectly (for $8.99 a month) so his staff could re­main in­de­pen­dent from any dis­trict’s “chain of com­mand.”

When the me­dia re­la­tions li­ai­son stand­ing be­side him at their booth sug- gested that, if nec­es­sary, they could go through school boards and ac­cept gov­ern­ment money, Goudreau cut him off.

“But we don’t want to. We don’t want that,” he said. “We want pri­vate money, be­cause it’s faster.”

Among the many chal­lenges ed­u­ca­tors face in try­ing to pro­tect their stu­dents from harm is de­ter­min­ing what prod­uct, or per­son, to trust.

As Home De­pot and Wal­mart mar­ket $150 bul­let­proof back­packs to fright­ened par­ents, ad­min­is­tra­tors are be­ing in­un­dated with pitches from en­trepreneurs push­ing new con­cepts that make grand prom­ises. One su­per­in­ten­dent who re­sponded to the sur­vey said that within hours of a shoot­ing ear­lier this year, her in­box was “flooded from ven­dors with some pretty dis­re­spect­ful and tacky state­ments: ‘had you had this . . .’; ‘if you had this . . .’ ”

The in­dus­try is also rife with self-ap­pointed ex­perts and con­sul­tants who claim to know what safety mea­sures are most ef­fec­tive, but given that so lit­tle gov­ern­ment or aca­demic re­search has been done on what in­su­lates stu­dents from on­cam­pus gun vi­o­lence, it’s enor­mously dif­fi­cult for schools to reach con­clu­sions based in fact.

For ad­min­is­tra­tors at the expo, try­ing to un­der­stand which ven­dors were true au­thor­i­ties was es­pe­cially tricky, in part be­cause, like Goudreau, dozens had worked in other in­dus­tries be­fore piv­ot­ing to school se­cu­rity.

Joe Tay­lor, co-founder of Night­lock, cre­ated a res­i­den­tial door bar­ri­cade 15 years ago af­ter some­one tried to break into his par­ents’ home. Back then, he never en­vi­sioned pro­duc­ing a ver­sion for class­rooms. Now, schools make up 95 per­cent of his busi­ness.

As he ex­plained that the com­pany had made the tran­si­tion af­ter be­ing bom­barded with re­quests fol­low­ing the Sandy Hook shoot­ing, a man ap­proached his booth.

“I just bought about $7,000 worth of th­ese,” said Cas Gant, an as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal from a char­ter school in Panama City.

As the men con­tin­ued dis­cussing the door lock, De­siree looked around, tak­ing in the scene. Her hus­band had at­tended school safety ex­pos be­fore, but this was her first.

“This is sad. I came in here with my mouth wide open,” she mur­mured. “Isn’t it scary that we lit­er­ally have to go through this - that all of th­ese ven­dors are here?”

Carl Manna, an as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal at an­other Flor­ida high school, felt the same way as he wan­dered the room, though none of this was new to him.

At one booth, he paused to stare at a photo from For­est High show­ing the desks and chairs that had been stacked to the class­room’s ceil­ing to keep the gun­man out. Months ear­lier, Manna had pre­tended to be an ac­tive shooter in a train­ing video his school pro­duced.

“That,” he said, “is what the room looked like af­ter I left.”

The video opens with Manna stalk­ing Bran­ford High’s hall­ways. In his right hand, he holds a wa­ter pis­tol wrapped with black tape

Manna, also the nar­ra­tor, ex­plains that the video would re­view “AL­ICE” train­ing, a set of strate­gies de­vel­oped by an Ohiobased com­pany that teaches peo­ple how to re­spond to ac­tive shoot­ers. The acro­nym stands for Alert, Lock­down, In­form, Counter and Evac­u­ate. “The proper use of th­ese five steps could save your life,” he says, as the video il­lus­trates a se­ries of widely ac­cepted ap­proaches to stay­ing safe in an ac­tive-shooter sit­u­a­tion.

“Once you have locked and bar­ri­caded the door, quickly move to an area out of sight,” Manna says. “Grab sev­eral items you can use to pro­tect your­self. Ev­ery room is equipped with some­thing that could dis­tract and de­fend against the ag­gres­sor.”

Sec­onds later, the video shows Manna and a dis­guised ad­min­is­tra­tor at an­other high school each en­ter­ing class­rooms, their guns raised. When Manna walks in, he’s bom­barded with fly­ing bot­tles, books and a back­pack be­fore the teenagers rush him. In the other video, kids tackle the man to the floor.

This is what the AL­ICE Train­ing In­sti­tute de­scribes as “counter.”

The drills have grown in pop­u­lar­ity in re­cent years, and many schools, in­clud­ing some of those sur­veyed, have cred­ited its con­ven­tional lock­down and evac­u­a­tion train­ing with sav­ing the lives of stu­dents and staff. But nu­mer­ous AL­ICE crit­ics — in­clud­ing con­sul­tants, school psy­chol­o­gists, safety ex­perts and par­ents — have ar­gued that teach­ing chil­dren to phys­i­cally con­front gun­men, un­der any cir­cum­stances, is danger­ous and ir­re­spon­si­ble.

“What if the per­son is exmil­i­tary or the per­son has po­lice train­ing, and you’re teach­ing the stu­dent to throw a can of green beans or at­tack?” asked Joe Carter, vice pres­i­dent of busi­ness de­vel­op­ment and mar­ket­ing at United Ed­u­ca­tors, an in­sur­ance com­pany that cov­ers more than 800 K-12 schools around the coun­try. “I haven’t seen any data out there — real data — that this is some­thing that makes it safer.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from AL­ICE, which was founded by a for­mer po­lice of­fi­cer, in­sist that the counter strate­gies should be used as a last re­sort and that schools are re­spon­si­ble for de­cid­ing what’s suitable for their stu­dents. Colleen Lerch, a mar­ket­ing spe­cial­ist at the com­pany, said their in­struc­tors rec­om­mend “SWARM” tech­niques — in which kids may gang tackle shoot­ers — only to stu­dents who are at least 13 or 14 years old.

“At this age, it is sta­tis­ti­cally very high that the shooter will be the same age as po­ten­tial vic­tims. A room full of 14 year old’s can eas­ily con­trol an­other 14 year old,” Lerch as­serted in an email to The Post, though she pro­vided no ev­i­dence to sup­port ei­ther claim.

In fact, a third of shoot­ers who at­tack mid­dle and high schools are older than their vic­tims, ac­cord­ing to a Post anal­y­sis. Also, while The Post found that adults who were not mem­bers of law en­force­ment have sub­dued more than a dozen­school shoot­ers over the past 19 years — in­clud­ing on at least three cam­puses that un­der­went AL­ICE train­ing — the com­pany could not point to a sin­gle case in which stu­dents used its counter tech­niques to take down a gun­man.

On mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions, how­ever, stu­dents who have con­fronted armed at­tack­ers, whether on pur­pose or ac­ci­den­tally, have been killed or wounded. Last year, a 15-year-old boy was shot to death at Free­man High, just out­side Spokane in ru­ral Rock­ford, Wash­ing­ton, af­ter he tried to stop an armed stu­dent in the hall­way. Three months later, a 17-year-old was killed when he came upon a gun­man in the bath­room who was ready­ing an at­tack at Aztec High in New Mex­ico, and a 17-year-old girl was wounded when she did the same thing at Alpine High in Texas two years ago.

Mal­colm Hines, head of safety for the Flor­ida dis­trict where Manna par­tic­i­pated in the ac­tive-shooter video, un­der­stood crit­i­cisms of the counter train­ing but said he also sus­pected some par­ents would ob­ject if the kids weren’t taught how to de­fend them­selves.

“This is an op­tion for them to at least fight back,” said Hines, whose dis­trict has paid AL­ICE more than $7,500 since late last year.

In nu­mer­ous AL­ICE train­ing videos on­line, the plan al­ways works to per­fec­tion.

It’s lu­di­crous, crit­ics say, to think that chil­dren would be­have with such de­ci­sive­ness and pre­ci­sion if they were fac­ing a real gun­man.

“There is no re­search/ev­i­dence . . . that teach­ing stu­dents to at­tack a shooter is ei­ther ef­fec­tive or safe,” Kather­ine C. Cowan, spokes­woman for the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of School Psy­chol­o­gists, wrote in a state­ment to The Post.

Nicole Hock­ley, whose 6-year-old son, Dy­lan, was killed at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary in 2012, con­cluded long ago that much of Amer­ica looks at school safety the wrong way.

“It’s so much fo­cus on im­mi­nent dan­ger and what you do in the mo­ment,” she said, “as op­posed to what you do to stop it from hap­pen­ing in the first place.”

Hock­ley and her col­leagues at Sandy Hook Prom­ise, a non­profit she co­founded, have ar­gued that re­form­ing gun laws would make a dif­fer­ence, but she knows that there are other, per­haps more at­tain­able, ways to pre­vent harm, too. In March, her or­ga­ni­za­tion launched the Say Some­thing Anony­mous Re­port­ing Sys­tem, which al­lows users to pri­vately sub­mit safety con­cerns through a com­puter, phone or app.

Be­cause many, if not most, shoot­ers of­fer some in­di­ca­tion of their in­ten­tions through com­ments to friends or on­line, Hock­ley has for years en­cour­aged stu­dents to speak up if they’re aware of a po­ten­tial threat. Of­ten, though, kids said that they feared reper­cus­sions, a con­cern that the anonymity should al­le­vi­ate.

The ser­vice, which is free and will be adopted by more than 650 dis­tricts by Jan­uary, has al­ready pro­duced mean­ing­ful re­sults.

At the start of this school year, the or­ga­ni­za­tion said, a tip­ster in­formed the cri­sis cen­ter that a stu­dent who might have ac­cess to guns had talked about shoot­ing gay class­mates. Staff im­me­di­ately con­tacted lo­cal law en­force­ment and school dis­trict lead­ers, who in­ter­vened. In an­other case, some­one re­ported that an eighth-grade friend was cut­ting her­self and con­sid­er­ing sui­cide. Sandy Hook Prom­ise said the girl is now re­ceiv­ing treat­ment.

The sys­tem and oth­ers like it ad­dress what sev­eral of the sur­veyed schools said was the only thing that could have stopped the shoot­ings on their cam­puses: a tip from some­one who knew it might hap­pen.

No one at a South Carolina school knew that a for­mer stu­dent would drive there and open fire on the play­ground two years ago, but af­ter­ward, the su­per­in­ten­dent in An­der­son County, Joanne Avery, fix­ated on find­ing an­other way to keep her kids safe.

Avery over­hauled the school sys­tem’s safety mea­sures af­ter the shoot­ing, adding re­source of­fi­cers, in­creas­ing the num­ber of ac­tive - shooter drills, in­stalling trauma kits, up­dat­ing sur­veil­lance sys­tems and pro­vid­ing re­cep­tion­ists with panic but­tons.

She changed one dis­trict prac­tice, too.

The shooter, who was 14 at the time, had been ex­pelled from a mid­dle school in a neigh­bor­ing dis­trict af­ter mak­ing threats and bring­ing a hatchet in his bag. It was then, in his iso­la­tion as a home-schooler, that he be­came ob­sessed with mass mur­der­ers and planned his at­tack on Townville Ele­men­tary.

So, early this year, when the prin­ci­pal at one of her schools asked to ex­pel a stu­dent who’d talked on so­cial me­dia about blud­geon­ing class­mates, Avery said no.

“I’m not just go­ing to ex­pel him and be done with him,” she re­called telling the prin­ci­pal.

In­stead, Avery met with the sher­iff ’s of­fice, a pros­e­cu­tor and the area’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for men­tal health.

“We’ve got to do some­thing for th­ese kind of kids,” she told them, and what they did was con­duct a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion , charge the boy and set a court date.

She at­tended, and al­though the stu­dent’s mother ar­gued that he should be re­leased, Avery had told the pros­e­cu­tor she wanted to make sure he got help. The judge lis­tened, send­ing him to ju­ve­nile de­ten­tion and or­der­ing that he un­dergo a men­tal health eval­u­a­tion and re­ceive coun­sel­ing.

Months later, at an­other hear­ing, the boy’s mother ar­gued again that he should be re­leased. Avery didn’t op­pose that, but again, she asked that he con­tinue to re­ceive sup­port. And again, the judge lis­tened, send­ing the boy to an al­ter­na­tive school and or­der­ing that he and his mother re­ceive ad­di­tional coun­sel­ing. A pro­ba­tion of­fi­cer was also as­signed to check on him ev­ery week.

Avery doesn’ t know whether the boy ever would have car­ried out his threats. But she wit­nessed the dam­age caused by 12 sec­onds of gun­fire — a first-grader dead, sur­vivors over­come with trauma, a com­mu­nity splin­tered — and she does know what her time and ef­fort cost: noth­ing.

CASSI ALEXAN­DRA/FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

This Or­lando expo for school se­cu­rity prod­ucts had a record 105 ven­dors in July, 75 per­cent more than last year’s.

RAJAH BOSE/FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Free­man High up­graded its cam­eras to high def­i­ni­tion af­ter last year’s shoot­ing.

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