In a dramatic shift gaining popularity after mass shootings like the ones at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Wichita teachers are being told to fight violent intruders using improvised weapons if that’s their only option.
“We’ve done evacuation and lockdown for a long time, which would be run-and-hide,” said Terri Moses, the district’s executive director of safety services.
“Now we’re saying that in extreme situations, fight is an option.”
Teachers throughout the district this week will watch a video about the “Run, Hide, Fight” intruder response plan, a strategy supported by many educators and law enforcement agencies.
Never miss a local story.
The strategy urges people confronted by an active shooter to assess the situation and respond accordingly, either by escaping to a safe place, taking cover or attempting to disarm the intruder.
“Yes, we’re probably going to panic a little bit in that kind of situation,” said Sherry Mariani, a social studies teacher at South High School. “But to me, the more prepared we are, the better we’re going to be able to handle when a crisis situation does occur.”
South High teachers gathered in a large classroom Wednesday morning to hear a presentation from Moses and to watch the video, which features Wichita students, district employees and law enforcement officers in local classrooms.
The strategy, developed by Moses and her staff but based on run, hide and fight-based plans elsewhere in the country, advocates fighting back as a last resort. It directs people to use whatever objects they can find as weapons, such as chairs, hot coffee, fire extinguishers or even heavy books.
“If your lives are at risk, fight,” the narrator in the video says. “Act aggressively and commit to your actions in order to disarm your attacker.”
Moses said fighting back should be considered a last resort, but that teaching the strategy empowers school faculty who fear they will be helpless if a shooter enters their building.
“We’re teaching options,” she said. “While intruders are very, very rare … we do need to be prepared for them. We need to be prepared so we can minimize injuries and loss of life.”
The video includes numerous tips for dealing with an intruder situation, such as barricading doors, silencing cell phones and urging parents not to call children or rush to the scene.
“If the assailant is still loose in the building, a ringing phone could lead the assailant to students,” the video says.
Moses urged teachers to “teach with your doors locked” for added security, and to not speak in code when reporting violent situations to school officials or law enforcement.
“Speak plain English: ‘We have an armed gunman in Hall C,’ ” she said. “Simpler is better.”
Moses also emphasized prevention. The district’s Speak Up system gives students, staff and parents the ability to send anonymous tips via text messages or by accessing a secure website.
“If you see something, say something,” she said. “If you hear a student talking about attacking a classmate or having a weapon at school, report that.”
Jonathan Maltz, who teaches science at South High, said the situations portrayed in the video are frightening but the instructions were helpful.
“The reality that something could happen is sobering, scary,” he said.
“But there are a lot of options in the classroom. … I’ve definitely thought about what I would do in my classroom if something happened. I have a checklist in my brain that I’m going to go through and try to execute as best as I can.”
RELATED LINK: District’s training video