About 100 school administrators across Los Angeles County gathered to learn about school safety on Monday. About the same time, authorities said a 14-year-old in Ohio opened fire on his cafeteria.
School shootings are on the rise. There were 38 school shootings in 2013 compared with 64 last year. And the cafeteria is now considered one of the most dangerous places for a school shooting. They’re noisy, crowded spaces that can be hard for kids to escape, and for teachers to control, said Dennis Lewis, the founder of Edu-Safe, a school safety consulting company.
“Cafeteria’s the worst-case scenario,” Lewis said in an interview after Monday’s training in Downey, where he and co-consultant Judy Brunner taught the group how to prevent and react to bomb threats and active-shooter scenarios. Lewis previously directed school safety in Missouri.
Teachers and administrators around L.A. know to close classroom doors and keep children inside, with the blinds closed and lights off, when necessary.
Los Angeles Unified School District’s lockdown policy, for example, calls for students who are outside to be moved to the nearest room that can be locked, and for students in a cafeteria to be kept there. It doesn’t mention what to do if a shooter is inside the cafeteria along with students.
Lewis didn't know about the Ohio shooting while the Downey training was in session, but he and Brunner spoke during an interview afterward about how schools can better prepare and react to a threat when students aren't in the classroom:
1. Prepare ahead of time
"For the younger kids, you're talking about running from danger," Lewis said.
2. One-word commands
If a shooting occurs on a school bus, for example, the bus driver should be trained to yell, "Down!" and the students should know that means to hide under their seats because there's a dangerous situation, Lewis said.
3. Give teachers and students options
He admits that not all schools should adopt his plan; parents might object to talking about shootings or school danger with young children. And even with a plan in place, it would be difficult to keep track of children who are running to a designated meeting spot off campus and for them to remember those meeting spots during an emergency situation.