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Teachers stepping up when school violence erupts

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Teachers Step UpGreg Toppo, USATODAY

The Roswell, N.M., teacher who stepped in front of a shotgun-wielding 12-year-old Tuesday and talked him out of shooting any more classmates is the latest in a long line of educators who have intervened in school shootings, often saving countless students’ lives, experts say.
From the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado in 1999 to Newtown, Conn., in 2012, educators, most of them unarmed, have almost always been the first line of defense against school shooters.
For nearly 20 years, teachers and other school staff have been called on to stop the violence. In October 1997, when 16-year-old Luke Woodham walked into Pearl High School in Pearl, Miss., armed with a hunting rifle and fatally shot two students, the school’s assistant principal, Joel Myrick, chased him down and held him until police arrived. In that case, Myrick, an Army reservist, was armed with a .45 caliber pistol from his truck. But in most cases, teachers intervene unarmed.
“As we’ve seen time and again, from the Newtown and Roswell shootings to the Moore, Okla., tornado (last year), teachers’ first instincts are to embrace and protect their students,” says American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.
Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, which represents specially trained school-based police, says educators have stepped in on several occasions.
In addition to this week’s Roswell incident, he noted one last fall in DeKalb County, Ga., in which a school receptionist talked down a gunman. There’s also “every indication” that Dawn Hochsprung, the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School, tried to confront gunman Adam Lanza before he killed 20 students and six staffers, including Hochsprung, in December 2012.
School safety consultant Ken Trump also notes that a Sparks, Nev., teacher who was a military veteran approached a shooter last October and was killed.
He says that some schools are adopting one-time training sessions that urge educators and children to confront or even attack school shooters with anything available – including, in a few cases, cans of soup stored in desks. “You don’t see a police officer responding to neutralize a school shooter with a can of tomato soup,” he says. “Why would you make a school procedure for teachers and kids to do so?”
Relying on such training “creates a dangerously false sense of security – you don’t take a child to a 45-minute Tae Kwon Do session and then turn him loose to take out an adult with a seventh-degree blackbelt,” he says.
Trump says deciding whether or not to confront a school shooter ultimately is an individual, personal decision. “There is a big difference between an individual teacher making a split-second decision on confronting a shooter versus the schools, as an organization, teaching that tactic and making it school policy.”
Canady says trained and armed officers have stopped shootings, such as the one at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colo., in December. “The key to effectively dealing with the situations is to have a good plan and to practice the plan.”
In fact, officials say, previous “active shooter” drills at Berrendo Middle School in Roswell, N.M., may have helped save lives in the school’s gym Tuesday. A few students said they thought the shooting was a surprise drill at first.
Eighth-grader Odiee Carranza said she was walking to the school gym when the unidentified alleged shooter bumped into her as he rushed past. She told him to be careful, and he apologized and continued on. The boy ran to the gym, where he pulled what state police say was a .22-gauge shotgun from a band instrument case and fired two blasts, wounding two classmates.
He dropped the weapon, police said, after social studies teacher John Masterson stepped in front of him and persuaded him to stop. Carranza said the teacher “grabbed the kid that had the gun.” Classes at Berrendo were expected to resume on Thursday.
“Teachers like John Masterson will do anything — even step in front of a bullet — for their kids,” says Weingarten, who adds that she’s “deeply grateful he was there at that moment.”
Contributing: Associated Press

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