It’s been three days since the mass shooting in Rancho Tehama where five people were killed and 14 were injured by 43-year-old Kevin Janson Neal. During his shooting rampage, he targeted a local elementary school and officials recognize that swift response from the school’s staff saved many lives that day.
In California, there are no statewide specific active shooter regulations for schools other than that schools need to have a plan. It’s up to each school district to decide what that plan is and how to implement it, so school plans vary across the state.
Melinda Flournoy used to work at Rancho Tehama Elementary School, which is the school that was targeted Tuesday by Neal. About four years ago, she transferred to a different school that’s about 20 minutes away called Flournoy Elementary School. (Yes, the school’s name is the same as Melinda’s last.) Flournoy said in isolated communities, like Rancho Tehama and Flournoy, people need to be ready to respond to an emergency because they can’t assume outside help will be available in time.
“I wasn’t surprised to hear that they were really prepared for this,” Flournoy said. “I know the teachers out there. That was one of their main focuses.”
She said the day the shooting happened Flournoy Elementary School also went under lockdown, which was her call. She said she saw several posts on Facebook about what was happening in Rancho Tehama and so she called the Sheriff’s Office to confirm the incident, then instituted her school’s safety plan, which went well, she said.
“I feel a little more confident now that if something ever, heaven forbid, did happen that our students would be ready,” Flournoy said.
There’s a reason that Flournoy’s lockdown was successful. In June of 2016, the Tehama County Department of Education hosted an active shooter training through a private company called ALICE, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. Staff from county schools were invited to attend. The county wouldn’t release details on whether staff from Rancho Tehama attended, but Cynthia Cook, the executive director of student support services with the Tehama County Department of Education, said the actions of the school’s staff were in line with what was taught at the training.
“So if they weren’t actually there, I’m thinking that they were involved,” Cook said.
Similar to ALICE, Armoured One is another private company that specializes in active shooter training for schools. They’re based in New York, but have consulted with a number of schools in California. Tom Czyz, the co-founder and CEO of the company, said he was impressed with Rancho Tehama’s swift response, and that he wishes more schools would implement more specific active shooter emergency plans.
“There seems to be a very strong lack of schools actually doing this,” Czyz said. “A lot of schools will tell people to just lock their door and hide on the inner wall and wait for police. That is not working.”
What Czyz recommends instead is to assess all your options, which he lists as run, barricade and fight. He said if it’s not possible to run, school staff need to make sure the shooter can’t get into the room. Fighting back is also crucial, he said. Throwing things at the shooter may reduce their ability to aim, Czyz said. The average school shooting lasts eight minutes with a person being shot every eight seconds during that time, he said.
“So that means every eight seconds every decision that you’re making, every layer of protection could prevent somebody from being shot,” Czyz said.
The ALICE training that Tehama County schools were invited to attend last year was organized by Cynthia Cook. One of the things that she said stuck with her from the training was to make sure to look for an escape and also to use what’s at hand to protect yourself.
“Like you might pick up a book – that would be a typical thing in a classroom – because if you smack somebody in the face with a book it’s going to stop them long enough for you to have a little advantage,” Cook said. “And honestly most of us were never raised to think about fighting back.”
When asked who you could talk to if you’d like to get this sort of training in your school, Cook said to make a request to your school’s administration or school board.
“Usually they’re very responsive to what families think are necessary,” Cook said.