Every time another shooting takes place at a school in the United States, the necessity for educators to be prepared to deal with armed intruders becomes more apparent.
Personnel with the Houston School District did some preparing last Friday by taking part in a day of active shooter response training conducted by Spearpoint LLC, a firm founded and directed by Houston Police Department Sgt. Tim Ceplina. The training took place at the elementary school and included everything from lectures and film studies to lifelike action scenarios featuring mock intrusions by armed gunmen.
By the end of the day, many teachers and administrators agreed the experience had changed their perspectives and would lead them to alter the way they approach their jobs.
“The responsibility each person in this school district assumes every single day is already overwhelming,” Superintendent Scott Dill said. “But every one of us who got into this did it because we care about kids, and the thought of anything happening to any one of them just tears me up.”
Ceplina said 51 school shooting events have been reported in 2014. Dill said Houston signed up with Spearpoint because there’s no sense in pretending “it can’t happen here.”
“Houston –– despite the bucolic setting –– is not immune to problems facing our society, and training like this is important for all schools, regardless of location,” Dill said. “If the last 20 years have taught us nothing else, it is that there is no geographic immunity from the threat of an active shooter event. We must train and prepare so that if we’re ever faced with a dangerous situation, we’re ready to take action to keep our students safe.”
Houston is the 30th school Spearpoint has conducted training at in only its first year of operation.
“And we have two more under contract,” he said. “Our initial goal was 25 for the year. We also have our first business, which is in Strafford, under contract.”
Spearpoint’s roster includes officers from multiple local police departments. Several more local officers assisted (and learned) during Friday’s session in Houston. Ceplina said having 30 training sessions under their collective belt allows he and his trainers to deliver their message more effectively than ever.
“We’ve learned a lot in the past year,” he said. “Our drills have gotten refined over time and are very effective in reinforcing what we teach. Our lessons have also grown and are now school-specific. This allows each school to get what it needs based on its unique geography, in-place policies and practices, and possible threats.”
Dill said the active shooter response training is part of a comprehensive preparedness regimen.
“School districts participate in a variety of emergency and disaster preparedness drills,” he said. “We do in hopes that we will never have to utilize the training, but in recognition of the fact that we serve a public interest. Parents have entrusted their children to our public schools and we have an obligation to do our best to ensure their safety.
“We chose to partner with Spearpoint LLC to conduct this important training because they are well qualified, they have a sterling reputation and they’re local.”
Houston Schools will maintain an ongoing connection with Spearpoint, Dill said.
“We conduct walk-through evaluations on a regular basis in each of our district facilities,” he said. “We are consistently looking for ways to provide a better, safer learning environment for our students. The district will continue to partner with Spearpoint LLC in years to come to ensure our response to an active shooter event is both swift and decisive.”
Following the training, participants gathered inside the elementary school cafeteria for a summary and “debriefing.” Dill addressed the large crowd of teachers, administrators and staff members was visibly moved.
“If you weren’t emotionally compromised by what you experienced here today, then you weren’t awake,” he said. “I saw some scared people and it shook me up, too. The thought of this happening at our school, to our kids and to our teachers is terrifying, and as superintendent and facility and safety director for this district, I know there are areas we need to improve. But we’re working through it steadily.”
The first of three training drills took place in the first grade teacher Destiny Wilson’s classroom. She said she’ll never be the same.
“It was terrifying,” Wilson said. “I can’t help but reflect on how different it would have been with my students in the room instead of a bunch of adults who knew a fight was coming and were ready to fight. It really makes you think; I’ll never again have an unlocked classroom door.
“I’m a different person than when I woke up today.”
Houston High School Principal Charlie Malam said that these days, preparation for armed intrusion must be included in an educator’s overall job description.
“I think this helps reinforce the training we’ve had up to this point and that you can really never prepare enough,” Malam said. “And it’s like the officers and trainers said several times today, it’s probably not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when.’ That’s what you have to be thinking –– you can’t assume it won’t happen here.
“I liked the way the trainers commented the same way we administrators tell our staff that supervision begins when you arrive on campus. We’re responsible for these kids from the time they arrive to the time they get home, and supervision needs to be active.”
Dill said it all boils down to people being ready for something that might never happen, but could happen at any moment.
“All the tools –– the doors, the locks and all that –– are great, but the most valuable resource I have are my people keeping calm, making good decisions and doing what’s best for the kids at all times,” he said. “That’s why we do these trainings.”
Ceplina expects Spearpoint to soon expand its offerings with a self-defense course for women and a community awareness program about school violence, bullying and prevention.
“I hope our training can expand to more schools, too,” Ceplina said. “We would like to have all schools and responders on the same page. I hope that the numbers of school attacks will decrease, but I believe training for events like this can reduce injuries and deaths. Schools conduct regular fire and tornado drills, and this should also be part of the regimen.”
If you weren’t emotionally compromised by what you experienced here today, then you weren’t awake. I saw some scared people and it shook me up, too. The thought of this happening at our school, to our kids and to our teachers is terrifying.”