Pupils trained to have a go at school gunmen

27th October 2006 at 01:00
Texas classroom scheme run by a Briton is criticised as irresponsible

A British army reservist is training pupils in Texas to fight back if confronted with a gunman in the classroom. The scheme has been criticised by US school violence experts, who say encouraging pupils to become have-a-go heroes is irresponsible and dangerous.

Response Options, a "critical incident response" firm in Dallas, is training pupils in the 10 elementary and high schools in the city's Burleson education district to charge an armed marauder if they are held captive in a classroom. They also bombard him with whatever comes to hand.

Robin Browne, a Territorial Army major who now lives in Dallas, co-runs the company. "We're teaching them to disorientate the attacker," he said. To get this across to pupils, Mr Browne poses as the bad guy, donning helmet and padded suit to be met with a barrage of books, bags and chairs. The training instils "confidence so that if the worst happens, (pupils) have an option that might help them survive".

Mr Browne said that pupils needed to take action in cases where the standard school response of locking classrooms failed to isolate the attacker. He added there had been a surge in interest from other schools after three recent school shootings that killed six students and a teacher.

But experts have voiced concerns about the training. Ken Trump, of National School Safety and Security Services, said it carried a high risk of going wrong.

"Teaching kids to fight back is very risky," he said. "These are hormonal 14-year-olds who struggle deciding between the taco or chicken sandwich in the school cafeteria. Students need to remain calm and follow the direction of trained adults."

Dick Caster of the National Association of School Resource Officers, which represents security staff patrolling US schools, said that if students took matters into their own hands it added another variable for Swat teams to contend with. It increased the risk of pupils getting caught in crossfire.

Bill Bond is former headmaster of Kentucky's Heath high school where Michael Carneal, then 14, gunned down three classmates in 1997. "I've walked over and taken a gun from a young man and wouldn't ask anyone to do that," he said. Now a consultant for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, Mr Bond attended Wisconsin's Weston school last month within hours of the fatal shooting of head John Klang as he disarmed pupil Eric Hainstock. Mr Bond said: "John Klang took the gun. But he also took three bullets and died."

HOW TO RESPOND IF ARMED MEN ATTACK

If confronted with a gunman, schools must "reduce the targets of opportunity to lessen the likelihood of casualties," and buy time for authorities to arrive, said Phil Bailey, president of America's National Association of School Resource Officers. This means:

* Locking classrooms.

* Keeping students and staff out of sight of anyone looking in through the windows, by shutting curtains if possible.

* Only heeding instructions to reopen locked classrooms from the headteacher or police.

Delbert Elliott, director of Colorado university's centre for the study and prevention of youth violence, said that many US schools were now including lock-down drills in their emergency preparation programmes, together with fire alarm tests.

Minnesota, Ohio and Michigan recently demanded compulsory lockdown drills in all their schools. However, some schools remain reluctant to perform the drills for fear of alarming pupils.

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