Teaching students to attack gunmen is NOT the standard of care

Posted by on February 24, 2014

Is teaching students to throw things at, and to attack, heavily armed gunmen really the new standard of care?

This question was recently raised in a conversation I had with a veteran school security director for a large U.S. school district. He was concerned that some individuals may mistakenly be lead to believe that such a practice,  advocated for largely by some in law enforcement, is a new standard in school safety.

Our discussion zeroed in on a 2013 joint publication by multiple federal agencies entitled Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans which incorporates the Department of Homeland Security’s run-hide-fight concept, originally developed for adult workplace settings.  This school document was assembled as a result of the President directing some federal action after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.

The “Fight” section on pages 65-66 of the publication actually does NOT reference having children use force against gunmen. It specifies adults and does not reference students in the “Fight” section.  It goes on to say:

“To be clear, confronting an active shooter should never be a requirement in any school employee’s job description; how each staff member chooses to respond if directly confronted by an active shooter is up to him or her.”

Even more important is the disclaimer language on page 3 of the document which states:

“The guidance does not create any requirements beyond those included in applicable law and regulations, or create any rights for any person, entity, or organization. The information presented in this document generally constitutes informal guidance and provides examples that may be helpful. The inclusion of certain references does not imply any endorsement of any documents, products, or approaches. There may be other resources that may be equally helpful.” (U.S. Department of Education, Office Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Safe and Healthy Students, Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans, Washington, DC. 2013, page 3.)

Therefore the “informal guidance” in this Federal publication is non-binding, is not mandated in federal laws or regulations, does not endorse any specific programs that include techniques that may be similar to those listed in the publication, and does not create any required standards for schools or in the field of school safety.

It has been our experience that the vast majority of schools and school districts we have encountered do NOT engage in teaching students (or staff, for that matter) to throw things at, attack, or fight heavily armed gunmen. It is also our belief and that of others in the school safety field that the majority of the more than 13,000 public school districts and, the more than 132,000 public and private schools in the United States, also do not employ such techniques. A number of our respected counterparts in the school safety field have also expressed concerns about the potential high-risks and high-liabilities associated with such practices.

Courts of judges and juries may ultimately determine if such practices warrant consideration as a new standard. We are not attorneys nor do we present ourselves as such, and we recommend schools considering such practices get written opinions from their school attorneys and insurance carriers as they make their own choices.  As experienced litigation consultants and professionals in the school safety field, like many of our counterparts, my colleagues and I do not view teaching students and school staff to throw things at, and to attack/fight, armed gunmen as being reasonable and prudent.

It would seem that while some individuals may choose in a given situation to act in a heroic manner (as many educators have done in school shootings), doing so is not a required standard for an ordinary prudent person. It is difficult to see where an ordinary prudent person would be put under obligation to undertake a heroic duty at the risk of his/her own life or that of others. The federal publication disclaimer above certainly does not indicate that this course of action is a required standard and, in fact, it even notes that there may be other resources that are as equally helpful as their “informal guidance.”

And as I noted to the school security director, there is a huge difference between “informal guidance” and a “standard of care.”

Ken Trump

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2 thoughts on “Teaching students to attack gunmen is NOT the standard of care

  1. Once again Ken, very well stated. I truly feel that those of us that have been in both the education and law enforcement arena echo your thoughts here. I recently spoke to a school districts insurance carrier and they were outraged when learning that the district had adopted such a policy. Keep up the great work in school safety Ken.

  2. Chuck Hibbert says:

    As has been Ken’s history in the field of student and staff safety, he nailed the issue. Some, I hope well intended, groups are advocating students attack armed gunmen. I certainly do not want my grandchildren to do so. Adults, as Ken stated, can make their own decision. If schools want to advocate children attack then ask parents to sign a permission lip and state the school district is no longer responsible for the care of their children. Few parents would ever sign such a document. And again, site where a properly locked down classroom has been entered by a gunmen?

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