Instructor James Burke, front center, of the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy speaks at an event to train educators and law enforcement officers about school shooting responses in Columbus, Ohio on Jan. 17.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Kantele Franko
When a substitute teacher started the day's lesson without closing and locking the classroom door, the students spoke up.
"You need to shut the door," they told her.
Utica High School English teacher Dana Decker was pleased that in her absence her students were as concerned about their safety as she's become.
"My job as a teacher is not just to teach but to protect as well," said Decker, adding that, " If I'm prepared for safety, we can focus on learning."
After the massacre of 20 students and six adults in a Connecticut elementary school last month, Decker was among the more than 150 school administrators, teachers and school staff in Columbus today for a law-enforcement class on how to spot potential killers and what to do if violence erupts in their school.
It was the first time the "active shooter" course for law enforcement was offered to school personnel.
Teachers are the "true first responders at schools," said Attorney General Mike DeWine.
Like fire and tornado drills, many schools already practice "lockdown" drills in the event a shooter enters the building.
But instructor James Burke, cautioned that shootings at Virginia Tech and Columbine High School and others have shown that schools must think beyond locking classroom doors. Lining up against a wall or crawling under a desk doesn't work when you're getting shot at, and delaying or slowing down shooters is the best defense.
"Move, run, get out of the way, throw stuff, get out a window. Don't be a sitting duck," Burke said. "If you sit and hope they will show us mercy -- they won't."
The average shooting lasts about seven minutes and once police arrive, most attackers kill themselves before being confronted by law enforcement.
"We have to try and slow them down. We have to make it difficult. These incidents don't last a long time," Burke said.
In addition to locking their classroom doors, teachers can pile up desks, cabinets, chairs and other items to barricade the entrance.
"Are they going to spend 10 minutes trying to remove desks and other stuff we've piled up in front of the door? No. They are going to move on down because they know the cops will be there in a few minutes and it's over."
Running from the classroom or escaping out windows also has saved lives, he said.
In the last decade, 468 students and adults have been killed in shootings or other violence in schools.
The shooters, Burke said, share many traits. Most are males between the ages of 14 and 20 suffering from depression or other mental illness with troubled home lives. They tend to have few close friends and despite high intelligence, experience a large drop in grades before they attack.
They tend to first fantasize about killing, offering insight into their thoughts through postings on Facebook, comments to classmates, or writings, but the significance isn't recognized by friends, parents or teachers until after they kill. Once they decide to go through with the attack and start preparing, they clam up.
"We've got to talk," Burke said, urging educators to share any concerns with parents and police.
Carin Lawrence, a student teacher working on an education degree at Kent State University, said preparing for the possibility of school violence is part of becoming a teacher.
"I want to be prepared," Lawrence said. "I'm here to learn how to protect myself and my students."
Copyright 2013 - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio
McClatchy-Tribune News Service