The Pasco County School District has made a major change to its crisis response plan — should an active shooting threat arise on campus.
The Active Threat Response Plan has replaced the lockdown plan, beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, which started on Aug. 14.
The traditional, passive lockdown approach — where students huddle in a dark room — has been the district’s protocol for active threat incidents since safety plans were first implemented decades ago.
“We’re realizing in some cases (lockdown) still may be the best option and the best response, but in others, students and staff need to have different options that they can use in that situation,” Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning said, during an Aug. 7 press conference.
The new procedure, designed with the help of the Pasco Sheriff’s Office, is a multi-tiered, proactive approach that incorporates effective communication, self-evacuation and self-defense techniques — also referred to as the ABCs of surviving an active threat.
- ‘A’ stands for alert and avoid, where school faculty alerts 911 of an active threat, and then evacuates students — particularly those in common areas like gymnasiums, cafeterias and media rooms.
- ‘B’ stands for barricade. This method enhances the lockdown option, where students and teachers can pile desks and other heavy items against classroom doors or another secure place.
- ‘C’ stands for counter. This method empowers students to try to distract and disarm an active threat by throwing items in his or her direction. This is designed as a last resort option, if students are cornered by such threat.
The three-pronged plan, Browning said, follows new guidance from safety and education experts who have spent the past two decades analyzing school shootings.
It also aligns with best practices for kindergarten through 12th grade education as recommended by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Education, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Before the school year began, administrators, teachers and staff were required to complete an eight-part webinar course that identifies response options to help save lives from the time 911 is called to when law enforcement arrives on site.
Early in the school year, middle and high school students will be taught about how to act during a crisis situation — through videos and corresponding practice drills, under the guidance of law enforcement officers. Students and staff will be warned before drills are hosted, to avoid causing fear or panic.
The response plan, Browning said, represents “a huge shift in the way we think about school and student safety.”
Browning noted: “Although it is very unlikely that we’re faced with a violent attack in one of our schools — such as an active shooter —we must be prepared in a way that we will save lives and prevent serious injury to our students.”
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said the plan puts the district “on the cutting edge” for preparation and school safety.
“It’s sad that in the world we live in we have to do this, but we do,” Nocco said. “God forbid if that worst-case scenario happens…the first response from people will be, ‘What did you do to prepare?”
Meantime, a separate, ‘Stranger Danger’ video package has been designed for elementary students, in the case of an active threat.
The softer video approach contains a friendly animated lion and Cpl. Jennifer Rongo, a school resource officer at Fivay High School, explaining what to do in case of ‘Stranger Danger’ situations.
“We all understand this is a little uncomfortable for some parents out there,” Nocco said. “But…we have to be realistic; we have to have that plan in place.”
Browning stressed self-defense techniques will not be taught to elementary students or special needs students, who may not possess the physical abilities to defend themselves. For older students, Browning said the decision to defend oneself — or counter — will not be required as part of the active threat response training.
“(We) won’t require anybody to do anything if they’re not capable of doing anything, or if they choose not to do it,” Browning said.
Nationwide there have been 233 cases of gun violence on school campuses since 2013, according to gun control advocates Everytown for Gun Safety.
About 40 of those incidents, however, meet the common perception of a school shooting, where someone comes to a school campus to shoot faculty, staff or students.
Besides active threat situations, the school district’s 12-point crisis response plan outlines various protocols for medical emergencies, fires, hazardous materials, bomb threats, fights and violence, and missing and endangered students, among others.
The Active Threat Response Plan comes on the heels of a new state law stiffening penalties for students who threaten to shoot up a school.
The Anti-Terroristic Threat and Public Servant Protection Law, which went into effect last October, makes false reports about using firearms in a violent manner a second-degree felony.
The Pasco County School District experienced three incidents of students making gun threats in the first six weeks of the 2016-2017 school year, before the law went into effect.
Published August 16, 2017