BY QUINN SPOONER
Despite national protests due to the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and the March 20 shooting at Great Mills High School in Maryland, Carmel High School has not changed much about its years-old policy in the with regards to an active shooter on campus.
“We’re on a lockdown protocol for an active shooter,” CHS principal Rick Lopez says. “It’s what we drill for, it’s what we do.”
The “hostile intruder” policy is stated in emergency cards located in nearly every classroom, and it spells out that students should enter the nearest rooms, while teachers lock the doors. The policy also advises staff members to “use best judgement in getting all students inside the school building.”
“If you hear shots fired on one end of campus and you’re down at the football field, you’re not going to run back up to a classroom,” assistant principal Debbi Puente explains. “You’re going to get off campus. Follow protocol unless it doesn’t work, then move off campus and do what you need to do.”
To lockdown, as stated by the placard, is to “lock doors and barricade as necessary, close all blinds and curtains” and “move away from windows and stay low and out of sight.”
However, some changes to the policy may be on their way.
“We’re having the most sincere conversations with law enforcement and first responders related to adjustments to our hostile intruder plan that may lead to change,” Lopez says. “I think it’s good conversation, necessary conversation, and there are probably some changes that would benefit our preparation.”
The district is looking into many ways to prevent a shooting before it happens. In an email sent to CUSD staff members and parents, CUSD Superintendent Barb Dill-Varga listed several strategies Carmel has already implementing to stop gun violence, including drills, social and emotional wellness, anti-bullying initiatives and support services.
The image of a real active shooter may lead to some teachers taking a different approach to keeping students safe, not applying the policy verbatim to an actual situation.
“There’s no real way to predict the chaos and panic in an active shooter situation,” CHS Spanish teacher Olga Chandler says. “All I and other teachers can do is react to the moment to try and do whatever it takes to keep students safe.”
Potential changes to the policy could reflect this new thinking.
“In the face of a true emergency, people have to continue to think,” Lopez says, “and respond to the emergency in the best common sense you could apply to the situation in that emergency. Foundation is the protocol, but continue to think and react in a way that is safest.”
The geography and structure of the school makes guarding against an active shooter more difficult than in other schools. CHS has several access points, including the entire parking lot, the football field and the “chill hill,” a wooded hillside at the rear of campus.
In addition, not all of the classrooms are built with the same design or layout. CHS math teacher Mike Deckelmann’s classroom, for example, is different from a lot of other classrooms as the south-facing wall is entirely glass.
“Because of this classroom, with all the windows, if I heard the gunfire coming from this side, we’d go to that door, and vice versa, we’re going the other direction,” Deckelmann says. “I just don’t feel good staying in a room with this much glass in it.”
During a March 8 hostile intruder drill, teachers were asked to lock their doors and close their blinds, then talk with the students about active shooter policy and answer questions.
“I think it’s only valuable if the teachers think it’s valuable,” senior Diego Cabrera says.
The drill was not met with universal acclaim.
“At least in my class, we didn’t have that long of a conversation about the drill,” senior Cameron Clarke says. “I can’t remember the last time we had an actual drill. I almost don’t know what the protocol is for a shooter drill.”
One theme of student criticism was that the March 8 drill did not include opportunities to practice the information taught.
“I think if we had a full-on drill where we actually moved and did stuff instead of just talking, it would be more effective,” junior Elijah Smith concurs. “With the events that have recently happened, it had some effect, but it was not as effective as it could be.”
Just like the high school’s, Carmel Middle School’s policy—based off the same document as the CHS’ policy—has not changed in lieu of the recent shootings.
“It’s supposed to be district-wide,” CMS principal Dan Morgan says. “We’ve tried to work with local law enforcement and the county to try and design feasible programs for escape from an armed intruder.”
The plan used by the district is shared with multiple different law enforcement agencies, so that whichever agency responds first will be informed.