Friday, December 20, 2013

The Cautionary Instruction: School rampages, looking for answers

Matthew T. Mangino
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
December 20, 20103

Recently, I had an opportunity to address a group of school superintendents. These men and women have an awesome responsibility. They are leaders charged with educating and protecting our children. The latter responsibility has been complicated by the random, senseless, violent rampages that have plagued school districts across the country. Educators, law enforcement and parents are looking for answers.

For school children educated in a post-Columbine America, the idea that they must prepare for bad people who open fire in classrooms, school libraries and playgrounds has become routine.
As the tragedies of Columbine are repeated at Red Lake; and Chardon; and Sandy Hook the response to these catastrophic events by police and educators has evolved.

The U.S. Department of Education has proposed a new plan for teachers and students to deal with an active shooter—“Run, Hide or Fight.

Studies of past school shootings show that students and staff who took action survived more than those who went into traditional lockdown and did nothing.

In the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, most of the victims were shot in the library, where a teacher told students to get under desks and keep silent. Another dozen people were injured there.

In the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, 30 people died in classrooms on one floor. Of those, 28 were in classrooms where students and instructors did not actively resist or try to escape the gunman. Other students and instructors saved lives by barricading doors or jumping out of windows.

In the December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, survivors included students whose teachers barricaded doors, including the use of a filing cabinet, and kids who ran from classrooms, though some students were shot as they fled.

Run, hide or fight provides three options for dealing with an active shooter—run away from the shooter, seek a secure place where you can hide or "as a last resort when confronted by the shooter, adults in immediate danger should consider trying to disrupt or incapacitate the shooter by using aggressive force and items in their environment, such as fire extinguishers and chairs."

Local school district and law enforcement officials say fighting back empowers faculty, who fear they will be helpless if a shooter attacks their classroom.

“Why would you just lie there, and just wait to – and I hate to use these words, because it’s not sensitive – and wait to be killed when there are so many other options out there?” said Sgt. Nancy Wilkey of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s juvenile services bureau. “If someone is trying to hurt you, why wouldn’t you fight for your life?

But not everyone agrees. A security expert hired by Modesto City Schools in California Rex Osborn of said, “That’s actually been used in professional settings. Hospitals use it. Run, hide, fight — that’s what adults do, not what kids should do.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

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