Educate. Evade. Escape. Engage. Those are the 4Es of intruder training that all Parkway School District employees receive as part of their staff professional development. Various training is required during the year, including mock intruder drill scenarios.
Last month, Parkway South High offered both an overview of its safety protocols to parents and a companion event for students.
Manchester Police Officer Evan Waters has been a Parkway school resource officer for the past 12 years and the primary resource officer at South High for the past eight years. He led the evening session for parents.
As part of the “educate” piece, Waters dispelled some common myths about active intruder situations, which he explained typically occur in high-profile areas, such as schools and malls, for heightened notoriety and potentially higher casualty rates. He explained that the FBI has no active profile on a potential shooter. With mass shootings documented since 1764, there have been shooters as old as 60 and as young as 5.
Parkway educators, staff and students are taught to recognize signs that a person potentially is a threat, such as a person wearing a coat in hot weather, carrying an unusual bag or instrument case, or consistently checking their pockets or waistband as if making sure a weapon still is securely on their person. As part of this awareness, students at Parkway South High are not permitted to wear hats or hoodies, which can be used to shield a person’s face.
Evading and escaping always are the goal, Waters explained. Because security cameras are positioned for full coverage in each school building, an assailant can be tracked for position in the building, making escape a viable option in most scenarios.
Students have two rally points [safe locations] when exiting the building. Depending on which is safer, teachers and staff members will lead students to one safe location or the other. Parents are advised to go to the reunification point, which is communicated through emails, texts and phone calls at the time of an alert. The reunification point is a staging area for parents, which is located a few miles away from the school. In many incidents, first responders have been unable to gain access to the school because it is blocked by concerned parents. Keeping the roadways open is critical in allowing area officers and paramedics to respond, Evans said.
When escape is not possible, teachers are trained to lock and barricade the classroom door, turn out the lights and hide quietly until the imminent threat is over. Another added piece of security is to use thick textbooks as barricades because bullets do not penetrate books as easily as other objects, such as desks, Evans said.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of training involves the “engage” piece. Should an adult have to engage an assailant, they are taught to use noise as a distraction or disruption, use an improvised weapon such as a heavy stapler or scissors, or cause chaos to confuse the assailant. If the intruder is disarmed, the weapon should be secured immediately. Law enforcement officers will not stop to ask questions but immediately shoot if they encounter a person with a gun in an active shooter situation.
During the SouthTalks session “Take the Patriot Pulse,” students and their teachers were invited to weigh in on the issue of school safety and ask questions. Principal Dr. Patrice Aitch, Parkway’s Chief Communications Officer Paul Tandy and Lt. Craig Smith, who works as a secondary security officer with Waters, were on hand to answers questions.
Students inquired specifically about two issues: installing metal detectors at the entrance of schools and teachers having guns in the classroom.
Because of the sheer number of students and teachers, particularly at the high school level, metal detectors are not feasible they were told. The issue of teachers having guns in the classroom was addressed by Smith, who said: “Just carrying a gun won’t make you more powerful than the potential threat. It involves training to not freeze. As police, we are not in favor of teachers carrying guns. It’s too dangerous.”
One teacher responded, “I am not equipped to carry [a gun] and I would always have to look at my students as a suspect.”
Smith said that in moments of high stress, people react according to their training; therefore, ongoing training for Parkway staff is essential to having the best possible outcome should the intruder training need to be used in a real-life situation. Students learn pieces of the training, but their training is less comprehensive and more age-appropriate. In addition to some common sense basics, Aitch said she sees students having an important social-emotional role.
“The best security we can offer is watching out for each other,” Aitch said at the SouthTalks event. “The best safety measures come from within. Keep doors shut, not propped open. Don’t allow visitors to enter the building behind you. Report something suspicious or concerning.
“It’s critical for each student to have a positive connection with a trusted adult, which we ask students to provide to us at the beginning of the school year. … School safety starts by students feeling safe emotionally and building that positive community.”