There are a number of caustic battles revolving around the Second Amendment and firearm ownership in the United States, but perhaps none is as polarizing as the decision to arm teachers in public schools. Those who stand behind the practice believe that having armed, properly trained personnel on campus to defend students is the single most effective protection against school shootings. Those who are against the practice fear that teachers are not qualified to carry firearms and would be unable to effectively defend themselves and their students.
But just how much training do these teachers receive? Does their instruction differ from traditional concealed carry courses? And what does local law enforcement think about having armed teachers in their schools?
John Benner’s Tactical Defense Institute (TDI) in West Union, Ohio, has likely trained more teachers to deal with an active shooter than any other firearms training center in the nation. Benner, a Vietnam veteran and a career police officer who operated Hamilton County’s multi-jurisdictional SWAT team for 20 years, purchased the 186-acre facility outside Cincinnati in 1995 and since that time he has designed widely adopted training programs for a variety of civilian and law enforcement applications. His team developed the Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response (FASTER) Program. Originally conceived for the National Association of School Resource Officers, the FASTER Program has been adopted by school districts that want their teachers to be not only armed but physically and mentally prepared to neutralize a violent attacker while protecting student lives.
“Teachers must have a CCW to enroll and we ask them to take a one-day primer course before they begin the FASTER Program,” Benner said. “The Level One program requires three days and one night of training. Level Two requires three more days, and there’s a two-day Level Three program. We also offer one- and two-day classes for FASTER graduates because many of them don’t get the opportunity to practice as often as they should.”
How many teachers have come through the FASTER program? Roughly 1,600, most of whom came from Ohio, although the program is open to educators in other states as well. This number is particularly impressive considering that Benner and his team have a very limited timeline for training.
“We have roughly the end of June through August because of the teachers’ schedules,” he said. Thus, it’s challenging to work in as many educators as possible (though the schedule for the FASTER Program at TDI is booked well in advance), and Benner has increased the number of instructors, one of whom is Chris Cerino, a finalist on History Channel’s Top Shot competition. Since the demand for FASTER training outstrips the available openings, additional FASTER-accredited instructors are being trained and added each year.
Georgetown Exempted Village Schools in Ohio opted to train some of their staff to carry firearms, and superintendent Chris Burrows looked to Benner and his FASTER program to help prepare the teachers.
“As a superintendent in today's world there is not a single hour that goes by that school safety doesn't cross my mind,” Burrows said. “Ultimately, it is my responsibility to deploy as many strategies as humanly possible to ensure moms and dads that their children are protected. When you look at the research behind active-shooter scenarios the data is clear: seconds save lives. After learning this, I knew it was imperative for me to train all willing staff members to do two things: respond to and confront an active killer with a weapon and respond to any student or staff member that may need medical treatment immediately. We did an extensive amount of research looking for a world-class organization that had the ability to train our staff to do this and selected to train with The Tactical Defense Institute. The courses they offer are rigorous and relevant. Not everyone passes the first time, but when they do I am confident they are highly trained and prepared. This was never about a political stance simply a researched based strategy that could get our district one step closer to our assurances, keeping the boys, girls, and adults of Georgetown safe by having the ability to respond to the unthinkable situation immediately.”
Burrows and a number of Georgetown staffers were trained on FASTER techniques by Benner and his team.
“We were put in real-world situations and asked to act immediately,” he said.
The course is lengthy and not easy to pass. In fact, the marksmanship qualification for the teacher portion of the test exceeds the rigorous standards for Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA) standards. The Georgetown teachers agreed that the training they received was not only extensive but practical.
“If you are going to carry a firearm in a school system, FASTER training is a must,” said one of Georgetown’s teachers who completed the TDI program. “The scenario-based skill level training is vital for anyone who needs to be prepared in the event something happens in your school.”
“This is hands-down the best training in the country on active shooter situations in schools,” said another Georgetown teacher. (The teachers aren’t identified because the school district doesn’t want everyone to know who is armed.)
At FASTER, Benner and his team train with teachers inside their schools, individualizing the program to the district. They cover how to handle active shooters, place teachers in real-world scenarios where they are instructed on making critical decisions in real time, and the program also educates teachers on what to expect in the aftermath of a shooting. Georgetown’s local law enforcement—the first responders in the event of a school shooting—trained alongside the school teachers. This is a critical step so that educators and law enforcement are on the same page, avoiding communications issues that can prove problematic. This collaborative effort is designed to streamline the rescue and removal of students by having a plan in place ahead of a fatal shooting. In addition, the FASTER program instructs teachers on how to administer life-saving first aid in shooter-specific situations.
Proper training and better collaboration are at the heart of the FASTER program. Designed to go far beyond the standard curriculum for concealed-carry classes, Benner’s course has become a comprehensive defense program for school systems that incorporates a broad range of training methods and topics to better prepare educators to deal with the worst-case situations. No administrator, school teacher, police officer parent or student wants to deal with the aftermath of a deadly attack in a school, and proactive efforts to properly train school employees serves as a critical step toward ensuring the safety of students.