Families and neighbors of East Valley High School students had a scare Friday. Thanks to effective preparation, individual skill and a stroke or two of luck, though, it wasn’t a tragedy reported under national headlines.
A 15-year-old student brought a loaded .22-caliber pistol to school and pointed it at a teacher whose classroom he wanted to enter to talk to a former girlfriend.
In too many instances over the past decade, a chain of events like that has resulted in bloodshed, grief and a litany of familiar but daunting questions about why it happened and how it could be prevented in the future. Columbine-like episodes have afflicted communities all over the country, Spokane included.
Given the potential for calamity, the outcome this time was comparatively uneventful, to the relief of students and parents. The teacher, Stephanie Lund, took command, calmed the student and got him to put the gun back in his pocket. She also managed to get him into the hands of others who were able to remove him to a safer location and disarm him. The school was locked down for more than an hour as the situation was brought fully under control.
That’s not to say the story is over, of course. The young man who held a cocked revolver in the face of a teacher has problems that need to be addressed. Authorities have decisions to make about consequences and follow-up. Many classmates and school staff have had their anxiety raised and their sense of security at school undermined. Authorities, school officials and counselors will have to deal with those issues.
Fortunately, however, there are no funerals to plan, no hospital vigils to keep. The kind of drills most schools now go through, just to be prepared for an unlikely gun incident, paid off at East Valley.
It helped, says Principal Jeff Miller, that the teacher the student confronted happened to be one who had gotten to know him in class — stroke of luck No. 1. In a lot of high school situations, he might have been just another dimly familiar face, but EV tries to smooth the transition to high school through a “teaming” approach that keeps specific kids together in certain classes. They get better acquainted with each other and with teachers who have fewer of them to remember. In this case, according to Miller, the resulting trust and rapport made it easier for the teacher to defuse the situation without ever exposing the students in the classroom behind her to a direct threat.
When the student had been persuaded to put the gun back in his pocket and a school security officer happened upon the scene — stroke of luck No. 2 — Lund was savvy enough to convey what was going on without further agitating the student. That’s remarkable poise for someone who’s been looking down the barrel of a loaded gun.
You don’t create that kind of character with drills and policies. They’re still essential, though, and East Valley officials will be reflecting on everything that happened Friday so they can identify ways to be even better prepared for such an incident in the future.
Let’s hope they never find out. But let’s also hope that EV’s experience inspires all schools to re-examine and improve their own preparedness.
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