BURLESON, Texas (AP) -- Youngsters in a suburban Fort Worth, Texas, school district are being taught not to sit there like good boys and girls with their hands folded if a gunman invades the classroom, but to rush him and hit him with everything they've got -- books, pencils, legs and arms.
"Getting under desks and praying for rescue from professionals is not a recipe for success," said Robin Browne, a major in the British Army reserve and an instructor for Response Options, the company providing the training to the Burleson schools.
That kind of fight-back advice is all but unheard of among schools, and some fear it will get children killed.
But school officials in Burleson said they are drawing on the lessons learned from a string of disasters such as Columbine in 1999 and the Amish schoolhouse attack in Pennsylvania last week.
The school system in this working-class suburb of about 26,000 is believed to be the first in the nation to train all its teachers and students to fight back, Browne said.
At Burleson -- which has 10 schools and about 8,500 students -- the training covers various emergencies, such as tornadoes, fires and situations where first aid is required. Among the lessons: Use a belt as a sling for broken bones, and shoelaces make good tourniquets.
Students are also instructed not to comply with a gunman's orders, and to take him down.
Browne recommends students and teachers "react immediately to the sight of a gun by picking up anything and everything and throwing it at the head and body of the attacker and making as much noise as possible. Go toward him as fast as we can and bring them down."
Response Options trains students and teachers to "lock onto the attacker's limbs and use their body weight," Browne said. Everyday classroom objects, such as paperbacks and pencils, can become weapons.
"We show them they can win," he said. "The fact that someone walks into a classroom with a gun does not make them a god. Five or six seventh-grade kids and a 95-pound art teacher can basically challenge, bring down and immobilize a 200-pound man with a gun."
Change in mindset
The fight-back training parallels the change in thinking that has occurred since September 11, 2001, when United Flight 93 made it clear that the usual advice during a hijacking -- Don't try to be a hero, and no one will get hurt -- no longer holds. Flight attendants and passengers are now encouraged to rush the cockpit.
Similarly, women and youngsters are often told by safety experts to kick, scream and claw their way out during a rape attempt or a child-snatching.
In 1998 in Oregon, a 17-year-old high school wrestling star with a bullet in his chest stopped a rampage by tackling a teenager who had opened fire in the cafeteria. The gunman killed two students, as well as his parents, and 22 others were wounded.
Hilda Quiroz of the National School Safety Center, a nonprofit advocacy group in California, said she knows of no other school system in the country that is offering fight-back training, and found the strategy at Burleson troubling.
"If kids are saved, then this is the most wonderful thing in the world. If kids are killed, people are going to wonder who's to blame," she said. "How much common sense will a student have in a time of panic?"
Terry Grisham, spokesman for the Tarrant County Sheriff's Department, said he, too, had concerns, though he had not seen details of the program.
"You're telling kids to do what a tactical officer is trained to do, and they have a lot of guns and ballistic shields," he said. "If my school was teaching that, I'd be upset, frankly."
Some students said they appreciate the training.
"It's harder to hit a moving target than a target that is standing still," said 14-year-old Jessica Justice, who received the training over the summer during freshman orientation at Burleson High.
A better option?
William Lassiter, manager of the North Carolina-based Center for Prevention of School Violence, said past attacks indicate that fighting back, at least by teachers and staff, has its merits.
"At Columbine, teachers told students to get down and get on the floors, and gunmen went around and shot people on the floors," Lassiter said. "I know this sounds chaotic and I know it doesn't sound like a great solution, but it's better than leaving them there to get shot."
Lassiter questioned, however, whether students should be included in the fight-back training: "That's going to scare the you-know-what out of them."
Most of the freshman class at Burleson's high school underwent instruction during orientation, and eventually all Burleson students will receive some training, even the elementary school children.
"We want them to know if Miss Valley says to run out of the room screaming, that is exactly what they need to do," said Jeanie Gilbert, district director of emergency management. She said students and teachers should have "a fighting chance in every situation."
"It's terribly sad that when I get up in the morning that I have to wonder what may happen today either in our area or in the nation," Gilbert said. "Something that happens in Pennsylvania has that ripple effect across the country."
Burleson High Principal Paul Cash said he has received no complaints from parents about the training. Stacy Vaughn, the president of the Parent-Teacher Organization at Norwood Elementary in Burleson, supports the program.
"I feel like our kids should be armed with the information that these types of possibilities exist," Vaughn said.
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