This is the first in four-part series of articles detailing the experiences of Laura Giles and other participants in Utah County Sheriff’s Office’s Teachers Academy.
School teachers do more than teach. Our first priority is to keep our students safe. This is why 30 teachers and administrators, including myself, from all over Utah County are participating in the Utah County Sheriff’s Office’s first-ever Teachers’ Academy.
The four-week academy is designed to give educators the tools to protect their students and themselves in case of a school shooter. The participants in the class work with a variety of ages of students in a variety of school settings. But, one thing we all have in common is that we want to learn and practice ways to keep our students safe.
“I have been discouraged that more has not been done to prevent active shooter violence in schools,” said participant Skipper Coates, who teaches at a junior high in Alpine School District. “It’s difficult to determine who is really in charge of solving the problem. This class was one thing I could actively do that involved more than offering hopes and prayers that things will change.”
Coates said taking this course is an opportunity to hear how law enforcement may respond, to prepare her for what an active shooter scene may look like and give her the mental tools to survive and protect her students.
On our first day of class, members of the UCSO exposed us to a history of violent school situations, beginning with the Bath School Disaster in 1927, when Andrew Kehoe killed 38 elementary school children and six adults. Others that we discussed included Columbine High School in 1999, the Virginia Tech Shooting in 2007 and the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in 2012.
According to Sgt. Shawn Radmall, warning signs in a person who may commit this type of violence include irrational beliefs, threats, fascination with weapons, alcohol or substance abuse, unwarranted anger, performance problems, attendance problems and violence toward inanimate objects.
So what happens when an individual like this enters a school with hundreds of students? That is what we will be learning during the next four weeks of the academy. One thing we do know is that officers, including SWAT team officers, will enter the school with one goal in mind: to stop the shooter.
According to Sheriff Mike Smith, members of the UCSO SWAT team are also members of city police departments. Because of that, at least some SWAT members would get to the scene within minutes. Even city police officers who are not members of SWAT are encouraged to go through SWAT training, Smith said.
Deputy Kurt Robertson said that it takes a lot of manpower to search and secure a large building, such as a school. “To do it well and quickly, many are needed,” he said.
Until law enforcement officers arrive, school personnel have the immense responsibility of keeping children safe. In our class, we were told to run, hide or fight.
“Run as fast as you can. Take as many students with you. Don’t go back inside,” Radmall said.
If running is not a possibility, hiding can help save a life. Fighting, using items in a classroom such as scissors, books and balls to stop the intruder, can be effective.
“You need to be prepared to think outside the box.” Smith said.
In fact, there have been many cases of active shooter incidents that were stopped by victims, according to Radmall.
“Fight back. Grab whatever you can. He’s not showing you any mercy, so if that dude comes through the door, make sure he gets a chair in the face,” he said.
Smith told us that we must have the warrior mindset.
“I want you to come out of this being a critical thinker about safety and be able to think about the ‘what ifs’ — what would I do, how would I respond?” he said. “Not here, not my school, not my friends, not my family, not my loved ones.”