Ninety local school teachers and administrators have gone through the Utah County Sheriff’s Office Teachers Academy, and the waiting list continues to fill up.
The primary goal of the five-week course is to teach school personnel about what to do in the case of a school shooter.
“Our first class was capped at 30 attendees,” said Sheriff Mike Smith with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office. “We had such a huge demand and waiting list, we doubled the number of attendees for the second class. To do this we had to split the class into two groups of 30 and hold multiple classes on several of the weeks.”
Smith said he started the course because he believes that knowing how to act in a critical incident will save lives.
“Our brave teachers across the nation have been the literal first responders to these incidents. We have heard story after story of teachers risking their safety to keep students safe,” he said.
While schools have essential lockdown procedures in place, there may be times when teachers and students cannot lock down. Smith said that teachers deserve to be given the preparation needed for an active shooter event and that preparation includes having a backup plan or plans.
According to the UCSO website, the course includes instruction in tactical emergency medical techniques, weapons familiarization, concealed carry certification, simulator training, tactical de-escalation, self-defense and a live fire range day.
Debbie Cram, an elementary school teacher in Alpine School District who took the course during the second session last fall, said she took it because she wanted to be able to protect her students if necessary.
“What was eye-opening to me was learning how to recognize body language in people who might be coming into the school, or anywhere, to harm others,” Cram said. “I also learned about the mindset of those individuals who are active shooters.”
Smith said that the VirTra simulator is also an eye-opener to class participants. The simulator allows teachers to step onto a stage surrounded by 320 degrees of screens. They are then placed into a virtual school shooting scenario. Even though they know it isn’t real, it invokes real stress and emotion and allows them to work through a very stressful event, he said.
Training at the range and in the live fire shoot house is another experience that has been a first for participants.
“One of the goals of this class is to stress that owning and carrying a firearm is not the important part. Knowing how to properly handle and use the firearm is,” Smith said.
He said law enforcement agencies have gone to great lengths to train officers in responding to active shooter incidents.
“The average response time across the nation for law enforcement to arrive to an active shooter event is three minutes,” Smith said. “I want our teachers to lock down and then know what to do if they are confronted with a threat in those critical first few minutes of an incident prior to law enforcement arrival.”
Registration is open now for the next teachers academy session, which begins on April 1. For more information or to register, go to http://.utahcounty.gov/sheriff.
“There is no question in my mind that they can make a difference and save lives,” Smith said. “The Sheriff’s Office is honored to help our brave partners in keeping our schools safe and to be prepared for the unthinkable.”