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Wash. school district tries arming administrators to protect students from shootings

In Washington state, where there was a deadly school shooting just last month, a different district has been training administrators to carry guns in case of a confrontation with an active shooter. Special correspondent Terry Murphy of KCTS Television in Seattle reports.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    A school shooting north of Seattle last month left five students dead, reviving questions of safety and violence for students and teachers.

    Another school district in Washington State is answering that question in an unconventional manner: arming school administrators.

    Producer Terry Murphy from KCTS in Seattle has the story.

  • JOHN CERNA, Superintendent, Toppenish School District:

    The incident that happened at Sandy Hook, for me, for our community, was the tipping point, because it really opened everybody's eyes. How can we keep our children and our staff safe?

  • TERRY MURPHY:

    In the Toppenish School District, the answer to that question is to let school officials carry guns.

  • JOHN CERNA:

    We have taken the stance where we're arming our administrators. And, right now, we have 11 in the school district that are currently armed.

  • TERRY MURPHY:

    John Cerna, Toppenish superintendent, is one of them.

  • JOHN CERNA:

    If this should happen, then I would be one of the first-responders. And if I had to, I would give up my life.

  • TERRY MURPHY:

    Cerna has spent his life in Toppenish, located in the Yakima Valley, a landscape painted with rolling fields and a city painted with miles of murals.

  • JOHN CERNA:

    I have carried guns forever. I have been shooting since I was a kid, so, for me, it's very routine. I respect guns. I'm not afraid of guns.

  • TERRY MURPHY:

    Under the watchful eye of an expert, Cerna and his administrators practice their skills. All are volunteers, and most have firearm experience. We're allowed to shoot video, as long as we hide their identity.

  • JOHN CERNA:

    I don't want anyone to know who is armed. I don't want them to have a target on their back.

    First thing, if it's an active shooter call, I would throw the vest on. And this vest is very simple to put on.

  • TERRY MURPHY:

    In addition to training, Cerna shows us their bulletproof vests. Over that, another vest identifies who they are when the police arrive.

  • JOHN CERNA:

    And, usually, when the police arrive, everybody's dead. The only thing we're doing is buying time until a police presence shows up, because we're not the police. We're just buying time.

    We have taken guns off of students. We have taken guns off of students in the schools and out in the streets.

  • ADAM DIAZ, Toppenish Police Chief:

  • TERRY MURPHY:

    Adam Diaz is chief of police in Toppenish. He showed us armed guards privately employed by the school district.

  • ADAM DIAZ:

    I would like to see a police officer in every school. Do I know that that's the reasonable option? It's not.

  • MAN:

    Sir, let me see your hands!

  • TERRY MURPHY:

    Confronting an active shooter is a big part of police training. As this simulator demonstrates, police need to know when to shoot…

  • MAN:

    Let me see your hands!

  • TERRY MURPHY:

    … and when not to shoot. It's these spilt-second decisions that administrators may face, and that troubles critics.

    Jon Lane is one of them.

  • JON LANE, Former Teacher, Frontier Middle School:

    I know they're well-intentioned, and I don't doubt that at all. And, hopefully, they're well-trained. I'm again a little skeptical that you can have enough training. Even police officers, who have extensive training, don't always make the best choices.

  • TERRY MURPHY:

    Lane is in a unique position to talk about school shootings. In 1996, this former wrestling coach and teacher faced the barrel of a gun held by Barry Loukaitis, the Moses Lake school shooter. After almost two decades, Lane still finds it difficult to talk about that horrific day.

    It began with gunshots coming from a classroom down the hall.

  • JON LANE:

    As soon as I opened the door, I smelled the gunpowder.

  • TERRY MURPHY:

    Lane dove behind this desk. Then, Barry Loukaitis gave him a choice.

  • JON LANE:

    Barry said, if I didn't stand up, he'd start shooting more kids, so I knew I — something I had to do. I had told him I was too afraid, I couldn't do it, and of course I was. But, by that time, I was close enough to him, and I knew it was an opportunity to end the situation, and I charged him and pinned him kind of against the wall. And the police at that time were there of course and came in.

  • TERRY MURPHY:

    Hailed as a hero and now retired, Jon Lane works in his community to promote positive change among youth.

  • JON LANE:

    I don't have the answer. There's lots of answers. And it's not just a gun problem. It's a family problem. It's a social problem. It's a faith community problem. There's a lot of dynamics to it. It's the violence in the media.

  • TERRY MURPHY:

    Among the students we spoke with in Toppenish, there seems to be a consensus about this policy.

  • JOSUE RODRIGUEZ, Junior, Toppenish High School:

    I probably would feel safer with it, because I don't know what could happen here. Someone could come, get a shooting, but we have a staff member who's trained and most likely will be able to stop the situation.

  • TERRY MURPHY:

    The hope in Toppenish and at every school in this country is that school shootings will stop. But if it does happen here, John Cerna will be ready.

  • JOHN CERNA:

    I will give up my life for my children, because I'm old. I have lived a great life. I have lived the dream. But give me a fighting chance. And I'm a good shot.

    PBS NewsHour education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let's Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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