Texas Schools’ ‘Fight-Back Training’ Is Canceled After Media Slams

Published January 1, 2007

After school-invasion murders gripped national headlines, a school district near Dallas hired a group to teach students to fight back if they encounter a gunman. But they decided to drop the “fight-back training” segment in late October after receiving negative coverage by the national media.

Burleson Independent School District (BISD) hired Response Options, a Dallas-based company, to provide general school safety training, which included fight-back training. The latter included encouraging students to throw objects at armed intruders, knock them off balance, make as much noise as possible, lock onto an intruder’s limbs, and try to take intruders down.

Teachers, 650 freshmen, and some elementary school students in the 8,500-student district received the training.

But after a national media buzz, on October 20 the district sent students’ parents a letter stating “BISD does not, nor will we support teaching our students to attack an intruder.”

The letter, which said fight-back training “is not adopted by the district” and “BISD is pro-active in their efforts to make our schools as safe as possible,” was signed by Superintendent Mark Jackson; Richard Crummel, director of learning supports and public relations; and 10 of 11 principals in the BISD.

‘Organized Chaos’

Crummel did not return calls seeking comment, but Steve Kaufer, senior consultant for Inter/Action Associates, a California-based company that assesses and develops security programs for school districts, said fight-back training “was probably a good idea for faculty and staff, but not necessarily for students.” Kaufer said “the student training might be good” but he didn’t know all of the particulars of the fight-back training performed in Burleson.

“You don’t know [students’] level of maturity,” Kaufer said. “The area where students can be effective is providing information to the administration and teachers on campus.”

The training BISD proposed and originally accepted would have given all students from kindergarten through 12th grade safety training, including the fight-back training for those in 7th grade and above.

The Response Options Web site asks, “What do you do when the lockdown fails, and you are staring into the barrel of a gun waiting for the trigger to be pulled?” The group, which teaches that pro-active planning and preparation are the key to surviving a crisis, tells people not to sit and wait for rescue teams nor try to understand the attackers’ motives, but to take quick action and try to “get them off balance through the application of ‘organized chaos.'”

Tense Relationship

While BISD was teaching fight-back training to its incoming freshmen–for just one day in August–safety analysts believed it to be the only school district nationwide to do so.

Although the Associated Press quoted Crummel in an October 14 story as saying BISD doesn’t support fight-back training and that he wasn’t aware of it when hiring the group, Response Options spokesperson Robin Browne said that wasn’t true.

“The Burleson ISD both approved and supported the training we had been providing teachers since late 2004,” Browne said. “They had also approved, on September 26, 2006, advanced training for teachers and basic training for all 8,500 students [including the fight-back component] to start November 1.”

Browne said BISD staffers said they were keeping all aspects of safety training, except the fight-back segment. The administration, he said, still advocates throwing items and running away from armed intruders–just not physically engaging them.

“As very few classrooms have more than one entry/exit, [running away] is clearly ineffective and potentially fatal,” Browne said. “As a result of this posture, we have withdrawn from our agreement to provide further training, and Burleson ISD will be instructed that there will be legal ramifications, should they attempt to teach any of our syllabus independently.”

Good Publicity

Meanwhile, the media buzz surrounding BISD’s fight-back training has been good for business at Response Options.

“In the last month, more than 100 school districts, together with private schools, colleges, churches, hospitals, and law enforcement agencies, have requested further information or meetings,” Browne said in late October. “In the last week, we have met with officials representing more than 70 school districts in Texas alone.”

Browne said he has gotten mostly positive feedback about the training program from people in Burleson and around the country.

“Many self-styled ‘experts’ have been critical, but none has accepted our offer to provide them with information or training so they can talk from a position other than complete ignorance,” Browne said. Also, Browne said none of the critics he’s heard from so far has come up with any alternatives better than “run away, or hide and pray.”

Although Browne acknowledged it may be “unpleasant” for parents to think about their children fighting back against a school intruder, he said, “The only alternative is to ‘comply and die.'”

Mary Susan Littlepage ([email protected]) is a freelance writer in Chicago.

For more information …

Response Options, http://www.responseoptions.com/

“Burleson school district clarifies its defense policy,” by Martha Deller, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, October 25, 2006, http://www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/15843537.htm

“Burleson students are taught to fight back against gunmen,” Associated Press, October 14, 2006, http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/city/tarrant/stories/DN-burleson_14wes.ART0.North.Edition1.3e1572a.html

“Students are taught to fight intruders,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, October 14, 2006, http://www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/news/15759624.htm