MIDDLETOWN >> In a second-floor classroom at Penn State Brandywine Wednesday, Ian Stoddart held a truncated mannequin thigh and squeezed it with his fingers.
“I think what’s the most amazing thing about the fact that we are doing this is the fact that I’m here at all,” Stoddart said. “Teaching this to teachers, I don’t know, there is something morally wrong about it but we have to do it ... This is possible, this is plausible, this is something we have to address and regrettably the people that have the burden of this is (teachers) because (they’re) the ones stuck in that building and (they) can make a difference.”
Sponsored by Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland and state Sen. Tom McGarrigle, R-26, of Springfield, the “Teacher Safety Workshop: Protecting Those Who Protect Our Children” was a two-day workshop geared for about 70 teachers and educators to train them in conflict management, self defense, how to secure classrooms and how to stop bleeding.
“We’re in an era where we don’t have the luxury of living in an ivory tower,” Copeland said. “We don’t have the luxury of sticking our head in the sand when it comes to the risks that our nation faces regarding our school safety, regarding (teachers’) safety, regarding our students’ safety.”
The district attorney said the workshop emerged after teachers approached her office with the request to host such an event.
In addition, she said Delaware County has traditionally taken proactive approaches to addressing issues as evident in the establishment of the Safe Schools Summit about two decades ago.
McGarrigle shared a comment he said came from Interboro Superintendent Bernadette Reiley.
“Every one of us sitting this room,” she told him, “has that same student in our school right now. We can identify him. The problem is we don’t have the resources and the money needed to address mental illness in our school districts.”
McGarrigle noted that $60 million had been placed into this year’s state budget specifically for school safety.
And he said he secured $500,000 so that a safety audit can be performed on more than 100 private, public and parochial school buildings in Delaware County. In them, retired state troopers will evaluate the schools’ environments from lighting at night to the drop off and pick up routines of students.
Yet, often repeated was the disbelief of having to discuss these topics with teachers, accompanied by the recognition of its necessity.
“I can’t believe that we’re here, that we’re talking to teachers about these kinds of situations ... but it is the way of the world,” defense attorney and panelist Mark Much said. “The world sure has changed and you have to be prepared and you have to be prepared for intruders coming into the school and you also have to be prepared for the dangers within the school.”
Former sheriff and Delaware County Community College professor Joseph McGinn, who also serves as a county Safe School Liaison, agreed.
“As educators we went into teaching to help students succeed in life but the role of an educator has changed in many ways,” he said. “You’ve taken on many more roles as a teacher and one of those new roles is a first responder. It’s probably not something that you signed up for. However, it’s the new reality of the life we live.”
That’s why people like Tina Pruitt, a 10-year teacher in the Chichester School District, attended last week’s sessions.
“I want to be able to keep my students safe in the classroom,” she said, adding that she wanted to learn how to barricade a classroom and how to stop the bleeding.
She said it’s an unspoken role now that teachers must keep students safe.
“It’s something that we think about and hear about 24 hours a day now,” Pruitt said.
Much provided the expertise in the panel addressed “What Self-Defense is from a Legal Perspective.”
“Kids weren’t coming into schools when I was a kid and shooting the place up,” he said. “My parents never worried about, ‘Was I going to be OK?’ I was at school. I was safe. Teachers were there. They were going to protect me.”
Now, teachers have become a line of defense – and not just from intruders.
“Self defense isn’t just the strangers, the criminals that are coming into your schools to cause harm,” Much said. “They could be students.”
In addition, Much explained that teachers are entrusted in the care of students, so they have to consider the well-being of their students, not just themselves.
“Your reaction to an intruder, your reaction to a student that’s attacking is justified if the force that you use is reasonably necessary to stop or protect you from any further harm,” he explained.
The key, Much said, is the perception of resulting death or serious bodily injury. He explained that juries are instructed to consider how an ordinary, reasonable, prudent person would act under similar circumstances when facing the threat of death or serious bodily injury.
In fact, he said, it’s not even a question of whether the threat was real or not, but whether the perception was.
In the “Your Right to a Safe Workplace” session, PSEA attorney Annemarie Dwyer recommended that protocols be established regarding threats from violent students before an actual threat occurs.
“School employees and school employers need to work together to discuss in depth the options for threat assessment and the range of responses that can be considered in the types of those situations,” she said.
Throughout the two days, the attendees could take several hands-on sessions from personal defense tactics with detectives Tony Ruggieri and Steve Bannar; securing and defending the classroom with Upper Darby School District Director of Public Safety Louis Gentile and Thomas Baumeister, Upper Darby’s lead security officer; and conflict management with Upper Chichester Police Sgt. Jason Mark.
Stoddart, a battalion chief with Narberth Ambulance, taught the “Stop the Bleed” session that demonstrated actions that could be taken, such as using a tourniquet or applying pressure correctly, potentially saving a life.
Stoddart explained the course emerged after experts looked at Columbine and mass shootings on military bases.
“The fatality rate at Columbine was really high and it didn’t have to be as high as it was,” Stoddart said. “There were so many students who bled out because of time.”
On the military base, by comparison, the casualty rate was lower than the injury rate, he said.
“All these guys were all trained in bleeding control,” Stoddart explained, adding that there is a critical time between injury and getting to the emergency room called the golden hour.
By stopping the bleeding in a mass school shooting, teachers can increase that difference, Stoddart said.
“We’re at a point where this bleeding control can save lives,” he said. “What you guys can do is going to make a huge difference in what the first responder can do once they get there.”
As he demonstrated compression techniques, he encouraged participants to take action in such situations not to be frozen in fear.
“You cannot make this person worse,” Stoddart advised. “That’s the only thing you can do wrong — you have to start acting, you have to move forward. It’s a difficult process but it’s the only thing you can do wrong – if you don’t do anything at all.”