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New active shooter training for Sanger Unified students. ‘No easy answer’

Fresno Bee 9/25/2022 Lasherica Thornton, The Fresno Bee

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Students and staff are used to safety training for fire drills, lockdowns and natural disasters.

In the wake of the Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in May, after years of shootings such as Sandy Hook, Parkland and Columbine and with events as recent as an active shooter hoax in Fresno Unified, local school districts are implementing more safety measures to protect students and staff.

In Sanger Unified, the school district will be training its students using a video that instructs them to “Run, Hide, Fight.” It’s a training model Sanger and other school districts have used for several years, but the recent implementation for students drew some concerns from Sanger trustees who questioned the wisdom of telling kids to fight an armed attacker.

Sanger’s student safety training is a technique SUSD said is “the best way to keep our students safe,” Mark Coleman, the district’s director of support services, said during a mid-September board meeting.

Sanger’s video teaches defensive tools

The video helps kids gain the tools, understanding and confidence needed in those situations to ensure they are prepared, Coleman said.

The district researched over 20 videos to find the most appropriate one. The eight-plus-minute video will only be shown to secondary school grades of 7-12 at middle and high schools, but not seventh and eighth graders at K-8 schools. K-8 schools will follow the elementary curriculum.

Groups of parents and students at Sanger High School, Sanger West High School and Washington Academic Middle School vetted the video before the district invited all parents to view the video last week.

The school district said the safety training video was not appropriate for K-6 students, notably due to the vocabulary and graphics. SUSD will use a third-party vendor to create a video for those students.

Sanger prioritized the safety video for the older students because school shootings most commonly occur in secondary schools, said Deputy Superintendent of Administrative Services Eduardo Martinez. And older students need to know what to do in extreme situations when adults are not able to direct them.

Despite the video’s title — “Run, Hide, Fight” — each aspect, even the fighting, is defensive, said Thomas Soto, director of educational services at SUSD.

The district posted the video on its website along with a list of “Frequently Asked Questions” that includes options for parents to submit questions or letters. There’s also information about how parents can choose to opt out if they aren’t comfortable with the video, according to Soto.

Educators have been trained to teach the information covered in the safety video, answer student questions and guide classroom discussions.

“We know that teachers’ comfort levels are different with this,” Soto said.

‘We’re in education:’ No guidelines for teaching safety

SUSD board member Va Her expressed concerns about the possible legal implications of teaching kids the “fight” aspect in the safety video.

“We’re in education; we’re not in law enforcement,” Her said. “I don’t want to start giving staff or students false hope that they can be a hero.”

But district leaders stressed the video does not train students to act like heroes but rather to fight back as a last resort when running or hiding might not be options.

Backed by the FBI, the safety video is an accepted practice dating back to the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine shooting, the district administration said. The video includes examples of using things like a fire extinguisher if someone has breached the school or class and there’s nowhere for students to run, according to Soto.

“In preparing, this type of training is necessary,” Martinez said. “There’s no easy answer to the dialogue and questions that we’re going to see.”

Furthermore, there could be legal battles whether the district prepares students or not, but SUSD officials said they would rather be prepared with something that can protect life, district administrators said.

The district would also implement a “Code Blue” to indicate an active shooter is on campus. Code Blue will signal both staff and students to run first, hide second and fight if needed as emergency services respond.

The school district already uses the code system in its incident demand response. For example, there’s Code Red for imminent danger which can be police activity in the neighborhood, a gas leak or a downed power line, to name a few, according to SUSD.

Active shooter trainings are emotionally hard but necessary

There are no state guidelines for how to teach safety, so districts like Sanger have to learn from the process.

“When we think about active shooters, we’re talking about them wanting to harm and kill us,” Coleman said. “And sometimes those words are really hard to deal with.”

As part of its safety video implementation plan, Sanger Unified wants to hold an active shooter drill under the Code Blue alert and use Run, Hide, Fight.

That drill would require multi-agency collaboration and the ability for students to run off campus in a controlled environment, Soto discussed, so it isn’t scheduled yet.

“It is unfortunate that we’re having this conversation today, but we must have this conversation today,” Sanger’s board chairman Brandon Vang said as he discussed drills shaped by the Cold War, those geared around earthquakes and now those addressing active shooters.

“We are going to implement it, learn and change as we go.”

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