By Rachel Christian
A somber mood loomed over Poinciana High School as faculty and staff prepped for a campus-wide active shooter drill on March 14.
Classrooms across campus went dark during the code red emergency scenario as teachers turned out the lights, locked the doors and gathered students away from windows.
“It definitely wasn’t like any other school drill,” said Poinciana High journalism teacher Jim Ellis. “It was impossible not to think about why we were doing this.”
Active shooter drills are now happening at schools across Osceola County. At Poinciana, training on how to respond to these random acts of violence occurred exactly one month after a mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida claimed 17 lives.
Poinciana faculty and staff were taught a mnemonic device similar to the “stop, drop and roll” slogan during training last week.
Educators were told to “avoid, deny and defend” in case of an active shooter.
After avoiding the area where the shooting is occurring, instructors should “deny” access to their classrooms by barricading doors and windows with heavy objects.
Faculty present at the training heard the frantic 911 call of a Columbine librarian as the operator repeatedly asked the employee if she could bar access to doors.
Less than five minutes later, the Columbine shooters gained access to the library, killing several students and injuring almost a dozen more.
Finally, if a shooter were to gain access to a room, faculty members were told to “defend.” Instead of playing dead or hiding, teachers who are confronted with an armed suspect should actively seek to disarm him by whatever means possible.
“It was all kind of unnerving to think about,” Ellis said of the raining he received.
On March 9, Gov. Rick Scott signed a major gun and school safety bill that will funnel approximately $400 million to mental health programs and “school hardening” measures.
School hardening can include defenses such as bulletproof glass, security cameras, fencing, metal detectors and more.
The most controversial part of the legislation is the new Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, named in memory of the assistant football coach at the school who died protecting students from gunfire.
It creates a new $67 million program for county sheriffs to train school personnel to neutralize an active school shooter. But many sheriffs, including Russ Gibson of Osceola County, have said they don’t plan to implement such a program at the local level.
“I’m dead set against it,” said Gibson at a March 5 County Commission meeting. “Arming teachers is the wrong thing to do, and I will not do that as the sheriff of Osceola County.”
Instead, Gibson proposed launching a program where vetted individuals would serve as “the eyes and ears” of certified security resources officers (SROs) on school campuses.
Currently, there are SROs at every middle school and high school in Osceola County. Elementary schools share SROs.
Dana Schafer, public information officer for the School District, said school board officials are working with law enforcement to implement an SRO at every elementary school and two at every high school.