Learning from Uvalde: From Lockdown to Run, Hide, Fight
Updated: Jun 23
Phil Mislinski / Getty
The Uvalde atrocity is only the latest example in a long line of horrific attacks in the US, where a lone gunman destroys the lives of so many innocents and their families. All of us, regardless of what side of the gun debate we fall, recoil from the violence we are witnessing every day.
The latest school massacre in which 19 children and two teachers were gunned down in the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, is just the latest in what was and will tragically continue to be a long line of such senseless incidents. We must once again, and this time permanently, outlaw easy access to military assault weapons in the hands of civilians. Let us remember that an Assaults Weapon Ban was the law of the land in the US from 1994 to 2004 . Why can't our country finally join the rest of the civilized world in taking action to remove this appalling threat to our society, our citizens, and especially our children?
School leaders must of course, continue to do what they can to protect the children in their care. I have led and participated in countless lockdowns and emergency evacuation drills. Typically, during these exercises, teachers lock classroom doors, pull down shades and blinds while students hide and huddle in preparation for the possibility of an attacker intruding.
While we have dutifully conducted these drills over the years, there are lingering concerns about whether this is the best way to save lives. There are fears that children could be sitting ducks in a "locked down" classroom as they were in Robb Elementary School. Even though every precaution is taken to lock doors, turn off lights, and assign a hiding place where students and teachers cannot be seen from the hallways, the doors can still be kicked in or shot through without much difficulty by a determined attacker. On the other hand, there is a fear that if we allowed everyone to flee, to run at the first sign of an attack, it would be mayhem and the shooter would have readily visible targets. Given what we know now, isn't it time to rethink our current safety practices?
We need to be current on the latest thinking of how to protect our students from an "active shooter." It is apparent to anyone who knows anything about schools and the role of teachers, that arming and "training" teachers is not the answer. Witness, how ”trained“ police officers responded, or failed to respond in Uvalde. Don't our teachers have enough of a burden on their shoulders, without having to be trained to have a gunfight with an assailant?
It's time to reevaluate the lock down, "duck and cover" approach to school attacks and pay attention and incorporate the latest research and recommendations. While I don't claim to be an expert, we should all be aware that for a decade the FBI has recommended that the first response to an active shooter in schools is to run if at all possible, then hide and fight if necessary.
Katherine Schweit, a former F.B.I. special agent who created and ran the agency’s Active Shooter Program after the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012 and author of “Stop the Killing,” has said:
We... need to re-evaluate how we advise students and teachers to react when an active shooter enters a school. After Sandy Hook the federal government adopted the run, hide, fight model, which instructs students and teachers to run first if they can, then hide if they must and, finally, fight to survive. (NY Times Editorial May 30, 2022)
Let‘s ask ourselves a simple question today, now. To what extent have we school leaders adjusted our practices to take into account the most current advice on how to respond to an active school shooter? While there are many steps to be taken to change the culture of violence in our country (education and voting at the top of the list), we can evolve our thinking about protecting our children based on the most current advice.
Of course, every school is unique, requiring school leaders to use their best judgement within their own unique circumstances. Nevertheless, the time for us to rethink the measures we have taken and adjust our approach to save lives is overdue. As we watch our politicians stall, flounder and procrastinate, it's the least we can do.