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Chester County Press

OASD provides active shooter school safety training to staff

11/09/2018 12:58PM ● By Steven Hoffman

Students enrolled in schools today don’t know a world without mass shootings.

They grew up seeing the shocking and horrible images of shootings on school campuses at Columbine and Sandy Hook and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. They grew up understanding that a similar, nightmarish incident could play out at their school, too.

School districts across the country are doing what they can to prepare for the unimaginable. On Tuesday, Nov. 6, the Oxford Area School District (OASD) brought in law enforcement professionals for an active shooter school safety training session for the school district’s 375 professional employees.

“School safety is a big concern, obviously, and you want to be as prepared as you can,” said OASD Superintendent David Woods. He explained that there’s no script for principals, teachers, and other staff to follow if there is an active shooter on the school campus because there are simply too many variables that can’t be planned for. But through repeated training sessions, school staff members can prepare themselves to stay focused and make good decisions under pressure during a crisis situation.

Police officer Pedro Melendez, a member of the Oxford Borough Police Department, was one of the law enforcement officials involved with the safety training at Oxford. The staff members were divided into groups and they rotated around to different sessions, each one focusing on a different scenario.

Melendez encouraged the staff members to try to envision what they would do if there was an active shooter on the campus. During such an event, teachers and staff would be responsible for keeping students out of harm's way. The training involved active shooter scenarios for both elementary schools and secondary schools, with drills about what would happen if there was a shooter in a classroom, in the gymnasium, or in the cafeteria.

“Today's scenarios are to get them thinking,” Melendez explained. “What can I do? Where can I go? What should I do if this happened, or if that happened?”

John Deecki is a member of the Oxford Area School District police. He is normally assigned to the Jordan Bank School. At different times during the training session, he acted as a student so that the staff members could practice what it would be like to keep a child calm during a shooting situation, and to try to get that student to safety.

One of the goals of the school safety training sessions is to help the teachers prepare themselves to react in the event of an actual crisis. The more practice that they have, the better prepared they will be to react to an actual emergency.

“As they go through the trining they might think of a different way to handle the situation,” Deecki explained.

The staff has already received some training about what steps to take during a school shooting. For example, during one drill, the teachers already knew to make sure that all the doors to the gymnasium were locked to make sure that a shooter couldn't get into the gymnasium from inside or outside the school.

Melendez explained that the teachers need to be prepared, depending on the specific circumstances that they find themselves in, to run, hide, and fight in order to keep themselves, and their students, safe.

Melendez previously served as a school resource officer for Oxford for two years, so he knew that he wanted to be a part of the safety training.

“I think it's really important to train teachers about what they can do during an active shooter situation,” Melendez explained. He said that he would encourage any teacher to follow their first instinct when it comes to keeping the students, and themselves, safe. If that means running away from the situation, or hiding, or fighting, then that's what they should do, based on what they are seeing in front of them. It's important to not panic, even though it's an extremely stressful situation.

“This is an emergency situation,” Melendez said. “Do what you need to keep students and staff safe.”

In addition to members of the Oxford Borough Police Department, there were also law enforcement personnel from the Pennsylvania State Police, ARES Security Corp, and members of the Oxford Area School District police involved during the training session.

Melendez noted that law enforcement personnel throughout the county get training for active shooter situations. There would be a coordinated law enforcement response to any active school shooter situation in the area. Like the teachers at Oxford, law enforcement personnel practice their responses to an emergency.

Everyone involved hopes that they never have to utilize the training for a real emergency.

The number of mass shootings in the United States has increased to the point where there could be an active shooter at any place at any time—recent shootings at churches, workplaces, outdoor concerts, malls and schools illustrate that point.

Melendez said, “Times have changed drastically. We need to be prepared for every scenario. Today, you can't afford to not be prepared. Not being prepared would be a tragedy.”

The active shooter safety training was part of a full day of in-service professional development activities for Oxford's teachers and other professional staff. In the future, the district will be providing active shooter school safety training to the support staff, bus drivers, and other employees in the buildings, Woods said.