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Keeping Students Safe in an Era of School Shootings

In 2012, an armed gunman killed 20 students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Since then, countless pieces have been published – by doctors, by teachers, by government officials, by advocates – about the causes of mass shootings, and the “best” way to stop them. While these debates rage on, another 2,524 people have been killed, and 9,344 have been wounded.

We do not purport to know what the best avenues for fixing this problem are. What we do believe is that parents deserve information that can help them prepare themselves and their children, and understand what the proper protocols are in the event of a school shooting.

Quick facts about South Carolina

Since 2014, there have been 9 shootings on school properties. None of these events were categorized as a mass shooting:

  • Three involved firing guns, but not at people
  • Two involved unintentional self-shootings
  • One was a murder/suicide
  • One involved an altercation that took place away from a school, but moved into the parking lot

In total, 5 people died. Every single one of these deaths was tragic and criminal, but they were not the result of mass shootings.

Why does the distinction between “shootings at school” and “school shootings” matter?

These are two entirely separate circumstances. The distinction matters because it will affect how you prepare for an event. In truth, there may be no way to completely prepare for a lone gunman who flees a local convenience store and ends up firing his or her gun on school property.

In comparison, there are ways to prepare for school shootings – intentional and often pre-planned attacks by one (or more) gunman on one (or more) people inside and/or around a school – and potentially mitigate the losses.

How parents can prepare themselves

Your children may be better prepared for a school shooting than you are, depending on how the schools handle these emergency scenarios. We believe that you deserve the same level of preparedness. Here are some steps to follow to better understand the process, your rights, and your options for advocacy.

Step One: Learn the schools’ policies

The sobering reality is that parents have to prepare themselves for a potential school shooting. The first thing to do is learn what your children’s schools’ policies are in the event of an active shooter. You can do this in a few ways:

  1. Check your children’s schools’ websites for copies of their policies.
  2. Attend Board of Ed meetings and ask questions about those policies.
  3. If the policies are not online or readily available, contact the Board of Ed and request copies for yourself.
  4. Review the schools’ security protocols:
    1. Will schools go into lockdown? What does that mean? How is that defined? Will doors automatically lock? Are there door blockers that will be used?
    2. Do the schools have active shooter drills? What occurs during those drills? How are the outcomes assessed? What metrics are available to see if they are effective? Can you help review those drills at home?
    3. What safety measures are in place during the course of a day? Does the school require identification from visitors? Are other measures in place? Are there security guards, or police officers? Are they armed? Are the windows made of bullet-resistant material? What are the protocols if the school has two floors?
    4. How will you be notified in the event of an active shooter? Will you be called, sent a text, or emailed? Is there a designated meeting place for parents and guardians? How will information be disseminated to parents and guardians?
    5. What kinds of training are teachers given? Is it standard? Is there a certificate? How do officials know the training is appropriate?

It is in your best interest, and in your child’s best interest, to cooperate with these protocols. They are in place to keep your child safe. The immediate aftermath of a school shooting is chaotic for everyone, and these protocols help instill some semblance of order and structure, so that school and law enforcement officials can do their jobs. If you have questions about why certain protocols are in place, the Board meeting is the place to ask them.

Step Two: Do your research

South Carolina’s gun laws favor gun owners. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, as your right to own a firearm is Constitutionally guaranteed. However, you should be familiar with state laws. Generally speaking, South Carolina:

  1. Is a concealed carry state
  2. Has “stand your ground” laws
  3. Requires neither registration of a firearm, nor a waiting period to purchase a firearm
  4. Requires background checks through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System

Right now, the country as a whole is debating a number of measures to reduce gun violence, including “red flag” laws. Red flag laws – also known as Extreme Risk Protection Orders – “empower families, household members, or law enforcement officers to temporarily remove a person’s access to firearms before they commit violence,” per Giffords Law Center. If you believe that this type of legislation would be beneficial, you can contact your Senators and ask them to put it on the floor:

Lindsay Graham

290 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Office: (202) 224-5972
Fax: (202) 224-3808

Tim Scott

104 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-6121
Toll Free: (855) 425-6324
Fax: (202) 228-5143

Step Three: Talk to your children

This will be the hardest step. It is also one of the most necessary.

As parents, our job is to not only protect our children, but to give them the tools they will need to survive in this world, and to deal with problems as they arise. One of the ways we can do this is to have an honest, open conversation with our children about school shootings.

  • Tell the truth, and encourage your children to do the same. It’s okay to tell your children that you want them to be safe, and that you love them.
  • Allow them to experience fear, confusion, anger, and frustration. Your home is a safe space for the kids; let them work out their feelings in the way that helps them, where they know they can count on your support.
  • Ask questions about what happens during school drills. You may learn that the policy says one thing, but the actuality is another. Find out where they are supposed to gather, and how often they practice.

Avoid citing stats or talking about other school shootings. This information will probably scare them, and it won’t help them in the event of a mass shooting incident.

How parents can prepare their children

Talking with your children, and with their schools, is critically important – but there are other things you can choose to do as well, to help prepare your kids. You can review the floor plans of the school, and have your child identify safe places to hide or escape. You can preprogram 9-1-1 in their phones. You can turn on a tracking service so that you always know where your child is, though we recommend having a discussion about privacy first, so that your child understands why you want to use the tracker. You can purchase bulletproof backpacks as well, but you should know that there is insufficient data about their effectiveness.

You should also discuss your child’s options if a mass shooting occurs. The Department of Homeland Security suggests a three-prong approach, generally referred to as Run – Hide – Fight, in the event of a school shooting.

  1. RUN. If you can run, run. Don’t worry about your belongings. (Teach your child how to run in a zig-zag pattern, as opposed to in a straight beeline.) When you are out of range of the shooter, call 9-1-1.
  2. HIDE. If you cannot run, find a safe place to hide. Drop to your hands and knees and moves as quickly as you can to your hiding spot, so that you are out of the sight of the shooter. Lock the doors, and turn your cellphone to silent. Call 9-1-1. You do not have to speak; just leave the phone on, so a dispatcher can trace the call.
  3. FIGHT. If – and only if – your life is in imminent danger, fight back. Throw your books, lash out, punch and kick. Do what you can to incapacitate the shooter. It is best to never attack the attacker on your own, but when your life is threatened, you do whatever you have to do to survive.

Watch: HLN presents 5 self-defense techniques for your children

Resources for victims, survivors, and their families

  • South Carolina Department of Education. The SCDE offers links to a large number of resources, including research data, videos, and assessment guides. You should contact your children’s schools (or use the schools’ websites) to get the name of the schools’ counselors, so you know who can help your child.
  • American School Counselor Association. This group’s resource page includes links to websites dedicated to the effects of trauma-induced stress.
  • The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. This offers resources and research for all manner of trauma-induced stress, and helpful guides for talking to your children.
  • Your pediatrician. Ask your children’s doctors for recommendations for counseling, play or art therapy, or other suggestions.
  • Your doctor. Ask your GP for recommendations for counseling, and then go to that counseling, no matter what.

Advocacy, outreach, and understanding may lead to the end of this particular reign of terror, but until it does, preparedness is key. We hope this article helps you to prepare yourself and your child, and that you have a safe and secure school year.

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