Most schools are off for the summer, but some Ohio teachers are spending part of their break training for next fall. They’re preparing in case of an active shooter in their schools.
But this isn’t ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training, where educators are taught to barricade doors or counter a shooter with distractions. In the small town of Rittman, Ohio, south of Akron, a pro-gun organization funds so-called force-on-force training.
Down an inconspicuous dirt road beside the train tracks, beyond a metal garage-like classroom, a group of teachers stand in a line poised with guns in hand.
Chris Cerino shouts to his adult students, “alright, shooters. This line is hot for 12 rounds from the high ready.”
They wait for Cerino's signal and fire. For the next three days, these educators are here as part of the FASTER program – Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response. It’s free and funded by the Buckeye Firearms Foundation.
Chris Cerino and Andrew Blubaugh are former law enforcement trainers and police officers. They’ve been hired by FASTER to prepare school teachers and staff in case of an active shooter.
“In a lot of cases and across the country, law enforcement’s 2, 5, 10, 15 minutes away depending on the jurisdiction,” says Blubaugh. “So the next best person is somebody who is in the building, who is educated, that we already trust with our kids, and we can give them the skills that they need.”
“We teach them about target and backstop. We give them good marksmanship skills,” Cerino adds. “We talk to them about closing the distances and using cover. And we also talk to them about not shooting when they shouldn’t or can’t.”
He also talks to them about how to conceal their weapons.
“If you want to wear an ankle holster, an ankle holster’s fine, but you have to have appropriate pants for it because the second you sit down, if it lifts up, people are going to see it.”
In Ohio, any school board can decide to allow an individual to carry a firearm into school buildings. The state does not keep track and districts are not obligated to reveal the information. The debate at school board meetings usually happens behind closed doors.
And it’s not just teachers who have been given permission. It’s nurses, principals, and maintenance people, according to Jim Irvine, Director of the FASTER program. But he says, it’s strictly voluntary.
“No one should ever be forced to carry a gun,” says Irvine. “It’s something you have got to want to do because if you don’t want to do it, you’re not going to embrace it with the right mindset and the right attitude to do it properly.”
That mindset includes the possibility that that children could be injured in crossfire, or that the active shooter could be one of the teacher’s own students, which means shooting someone they know.
Back inside the training classroom, a medic instructs the teachers on emergency medical care such as how to tie a tourniquet. But trainer Michelle Cerino reminds the group, that’s not your primary job.
“It is true if somebody is injured and little Suzy that you know is laying there bleeding, at this point, it is your job to go stop the shooting,” she says. ‘You’re the one that is supposed to go on the hunt,’ she tells them.
On day 2, Andrew Blubaugh continues his training outside at a wooden structure called the “shoot house.” It’s meant to simulate a hallway, doors and corners.
“The big things we’re going to be talking about here is utilizing cover where it’s available such as doorways,” Blubaugh explains.
Today they’ll learn how to use a small window on a classroom door to check for a threat and how to restrain the shooter if he’s caught.
“What’s great about you guys is when we start talking about the element of surprise, they’re not expecting a teacher,” says Blubaugh. “They’re looking for uniformed officers. That’s what they’re going to be cued in on. So you have the element of surprise.”
Most of the educators at the training did not want to speak on tape for a few reasons: they don’t want others to know who is conceal carrying because those people could be targeted.
Some districts have not informed the public that guns will be in their schools. Some have signed confidentiality agreements. So it’s unclear exactly how many districts have firearms in their schools.
In the next story in this series, Annie Wu attends the final day of training with a simulation of an active shooter. Click here to hear part 2.