Keeping kids safe: Are more guns the answer?

A look at school safety in the Coachella Valley

Megan Terlecky, News Channel 3 Anchor & Reporter, megan.terlecky@kesq.com
POSTED: 04:45 PM PST Feb 14, 2013    UPDATED: 07:55 PM PST Feb 14, 2013 
LA QUINTA, Calif. -

In the wake of recent school shootings, lawmakers and schools all over the country are talking about ways to keep our kids safe.  Is more gun control the answer, or should we arm teachers?

One Coachella Valley school district says more weapons isn't the solution.  The Desert Sands Unified School District says training and communication with students is the answer.

It's a scenario that's played out all too many times in our country: a gunman invades the sanctuary of a school.  It leaves us all feeling helpless. and asking what could we have done?

At the Desert Sands Unified School District, director of security Jeff Kaye asks that question everyday.

"The active shooter situation is probably not going to happen but if we train for it, it will save lives," said Jeff Kaye.

What we know is the shooting stops quickly after police arrive.
                                      
"In 88 percent of the active shooter situations in schools throughout the country, the shooters kill themselves as soon as the cops get there because they don't want to confront the police.  Their moment of glory is ruined when the police show up," said Kaye.

Kaye says it's about a 10-minute window when the shooting starts and police arrive; just ten minutes from safety or tragedy.  That's what Kaye focuses his school drills and training around.

"We have to lock down the kids and keep them safe, or we have to evacuate them, or we have to do something to keep them safe until the police get there," said Kaye.   

That something, Kaye calls enhanced lockdown.  "Barricade the door, do something make your door hard to get through, move the kids if there is glass windows in the classroom, find a safe room.  Do something innovative, use your imagination to keep the kids safer," He said.

During the Virginia Tech shooting, bracing the door saved some students' lives.

"He was shooting through the door, but they were laying on the floor bracing the door with their hands and feet, and the gunman gave up trying to get in, went to another classroom, shot the lock off and unfortunately killed the people in that room," explained Kaye.

Kaye says the district's training program is made up of what law enforcement learned from other school shootings, including a shooting in Reno, Nevada where he responded as a police officer.

"Just like we changed our response to airline hijackers after 9-11, there comes a point in time when you have to fight back if there is an imminent threat," said Kaye.

Some people believe that should include bringing guns on campus.

"We have a moral obligation that the next Vicki Soto (Sandy Valley teacher killed in Connecticut) who is faced with inexplicable evil that she not be left defenseless," said Assemblyman Tim Donnelly.

A bill, introduced in California, would allow teachers to carry a gun.

"Very comforting to know that my children have one extra step of protection especially in the schools," said Shannon Frandsen, a parent.

But the district's teachers worry it could spell disaster.  

"When you've got students around who's to say you are not going to accidentally shoot a student," said Mona Davidson, president of the Desert Sands Teacher's Association.
 
Kaye says there's some truth to that. "As a firearms instructor, I see when you put a little bit of stress on somebody at the range, their shot ratio, their accuracy ratio goes to 5 percent.  That is not good in a crowded classroom or a crowded school, so the initial reaction has to be take care of the kids, save the kids get them out of harm's way," He said.

However in trained hands, like a school resource officer, Kaye says it could help save lives, but it comes at a cost.

"To put a police officer in every school like some people suggest would be about $5.4 million a year," said Kaye.

Other preventative measures will also cost money.

"We have because of budget constraints lost school psychologists, school counselors and nurses that are able to really help students and help the kids who might be troubled," said Davidson.

But one preventative measure doesn't cost the district too much money.  It's the website "PSST World."  Desert Sands is one of the first in the country to use it.  It allows students to report any suspicious activity they see anonymously,and security gets notified right away.

"Every time there was a school shooting somebody knew about it, somebody knew this kid was acting funny, somebody knew this kid was acting strange," said Kaye.

Students we talked with say they'd use it.

"I would actually strongly agree with that one,, I would be on that site if I ever need that," said Austin Writh, a sophomore.  
"Ya, I think it would be a good idea.  In case you are scared to give information out you, can go ahead and do it anonymously so no one knows," said Kayla Madrano, a sophomore.
 
Kaye admits there isn't one simple solution to stopping these violent acts, but will do as much as he can with the funding he's got.

"Lets train for the worst and let's hope for the best," said Kaye.

Desert Sands Unified School District is one of the few districts in the country with such an extensive training program and that's because they received a federal grant in 2010 that allowed them to develop it.  Unfortunately for other districts, that grant is no longer available.