One year ago today, a disturbed 19-year old walked into Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL and murdered 17 high school students and injured 17. A cascade of police errors, a principal who was indifferent to safety and confusion among hall monitors made the slaughter possible.
In contrast, Tuscon schools today are intently prepared to stop an armed intruder, have a dozen uniformed officers in the schools, and use a lockdown system that any teacher or admin worker can initiate. A panel of 7 speakers representing the police, teachers, students and the TUSD Board described the depth of planning to stop an armed stranger at a Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense forum.
“We know that seconds can save lives, we realize the person who’s got eyes on an active threat can call a lockdown. One teacher saw a student with a knife and we had a lockdown in 20 seconds,” said Jeffery Coleman, Director TUSD School Safety.
94 school shootings last year
Indeed, on the day they spoke a lockdown was initiated at Magee Middle School when a student was spotted with a gun, which turned out to be a toy. There were 94 shootings in schools in 2018, a new high, according to Kathy Jensen, the Educator Lead of Moms Demand Action.
Coleman said that on the anniversary of the Parkland shooting, Tucson schools have:
- 12 uniformed, armed police officers in the schools, called Student Resource Officers (SRO).
- A single point of entry with a camera and intercom at the main door. All exterior doors stay locked during school hours.
- Students must show their ID to get in.
- Lockdown alert buttons that any administrator or staff can initiate. Schools can be locked down in 10 to 30 seconds.
- Training for emergency management staff and two active threat drills per year.
- Electronic locks on classroom doors at 35 school that work instantly. For others, there is a magnetic strip that is placed in the door frame to prevent it from latching; the door can be locked by simply pulling the strip.
- The School Safety Department is in operation 24 hours a day, and staffers monitor the 88-CRIME hotline.
- Police officers who are trained in active shooter situations will go inside the schools to confront the threat, as opposed to merely containing the building, said Police Lt. Anthony De La Ossa.
Tucson police have been training for active shooters since the Columbine massacre in 1999. When a shooter murdered 4 people, including himself, at the College of Nursing shooting in 2002 in Tucson, 33 officers who were trained to deal with active shooter went to the scene.
Today, Tucson schools can call a “soft lockdown” for a threatening activity off campus. This keeps the threat outside the school and allows teachers to continue education. A “hard lockdown” means the threat is on the campus, and staff turn off the lights, lock all doors and maintain silence. “An intruder won’t know where anyone else is,” Coleman said.
No arming teachers
There was no support for the preposterous idea of arming teachers. “Arming teachers is a really bad idea,” said Tony Vacura, a teacher at Tucson High. “Teachers are multi-tasking all day long. We don’t need to take on the task of having a gun. I just want to get through my lesson plan.”
TUSD Board member Leila Counts said “I would never, ever allow guns on campus. I say, speaking as a teacher, a parent and a counselor, how foolish that would be.”
“I am so strongly against the idea of arming teachers,” said high school student Lucia Meinig-Reeves. “I’d rather have a teacher taught to calm someone down rather than to shoot someone down.”
“Police officers train with their firearms, and during shoot/don’t-shoot training they hit what they’re aiming at only 20 of time,” said Tucson police Sgt. Brian Corcoran, an SRO. “I can teach you how to shot, but I can’t train you to run at the shooter.”
To deal with an unruly or disruptive student, SROs have many non-lethal options, including pepper spray, a taser and a “flex baton” shotgun that fires bean bags.
Stress about shootings
Tucson High is so large, with 3,112 students. Friedkin said that 75% of high school students cited mass shootings as a source of stress. Last year we had a lockdown at Tucson High due to a Snapchat picture. It was very stressful for the kids. I had to talk down a number of kids and make them feel safe. Something like that was so scary and out of control, one student was just rocking back and forth. These things are definitely on kids’ minds. Kids are more stressed out in general in last 5 years of teaching, and I’ve been teaching for 25 years,” Vacura said.
That’s why some schools have a social worker like Craig Wunderlich at Cholla High School. “I noticed kids coming to me with cuts on their arms. I used to think they were trying to commit suicide, but it was a coping method for depression and anxiety. Social media allows students to be mean to each other without looking them in the eye,” Wunderlich said. Schools also have support groups where students can talk about their anxiety.
TUSD Board member Leila Counts highlighted a partnership between TUSD and the UofA School Counselor Program. Called “Talk It Ou Counseling Services, it offers free counseling for students and their families. The program began at Palo Verde High School on Feb 4.
Lobbying for gun safety
Members of Moms Demand Action were in Phoenix yesterday, lobbying legislators to enact SB1219, a “red flag” law. When it is enacted, it will prevent domestic abusers from possessing or buying guns, and force them to turn in their guns to the police. In Arizona, the rate of intimate partner gun homicide is 66% higher than the national average.
Missy Paschke-Wood, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action, said the bill would allow Arizonan officials to enforce federal laws that block people convicted of these crimes from owning a firearm.
SB1219 was introduced by state Senators Heather Carter (R-LD15), Sean Bowie (D-LD18), Kate Brophy McGee (R-LD28) and Representatives Randall Friese — Assistant Minority Leader (D-LD9), Daniel Hernandez, Jr. (D-LD2), and Jennifer Longdon (D-LD24).
More than half of the states passed at least one gun control measure in 2018. In the three months after the red flag law took effect on Oct. 1, Maryland courts seized guns from 148 people after it was determined there was probable cause the individuals posed a danger to themselves or others. Four of the gun owners posed ‘significant threats’ to schools, according to Montgomery County Sheriff Darren M. Popkin (D). “These orders are not only being issued appropriately; they are saving lives,” he told lawmakers.