Every school year brings change. The students and teachers get older. Textbooks, lockers, and cafeterias are re-covered, re-painted, and enhanced. Local donors scrape fundraisers and pocket change together to build new gymnasiums or athletic facilities.
But this year’s changes in Delaware’s Colonial School District—a New Castle haven of 10,000 kindergarten through 12th grade students—are a tad more idiosyncratic, because more than 100 classrooms were not just outfitted with new whiteboards, but ones that can stop bullets.
Part of the district’s pilot shield program, the 18-by-20-inch boards weigh less than four pounds and come with easy-to-hold handles, offering the traditional versatility of the teaching instrument but with a quarter-century warranty that guarantees they will absorb magazines of ammunition from handguns, shotguns, or assault rifles at point-blank range. This is teaching equipment affixed to armor that can empower those wielding it and, theoretically, save lives.
"I WANT MY TEACHERS TO BE ABLE TO DO EXACTLY WHAT THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO, WHICH IS NURTURE AND EDUCATE MY CHILDREN. IF I CAN OFFER A WAY TO GET THEM THE MENTAL PIECE BACK BY PUTTING A NON-VIOLENT PIECE OF EQUIPMENT IN THEIR ROOM THAT OFFERS MUCH DIVERSITY AND IS MOBILE, THEN I THINK THAT’S THE WAY TO GO."
President Barack Obama spoke a few days later at the interfaith vigil in Newtown: “They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school; in a quiet town full of good and decent people that could be any town in America.”
In the months following the incident, the National Rifle Association declared that the best response to serious threats was to arm schoolhouses. In Arkansas, Clarksville High School provided and trained 20 staff members with guns, preparing to act on a little-known state law that allowed armed security guards on school campuses. Had Democratic Attorney General Dustin McDaniel not stepped in, the Panthers would’ve started the fall semester with weapons inside of the school. Providence Academy in Minnesota spent more than $40,000 on security upgrades, that included applying a protective film to windows and installing security locks on classroom doors. Arizona issued requirements for statewide emergency response plans and implored all state school districts to adopt them.
“Active shooter is a term used by law enforcement to describe a situation in which a shooting is in progress and an aspect of the crime may affect the protocols used in responding to and reacting at the scene of the incident,” according to the study. “Unlike a defined crime, such as a murder or mass killing, the active aspect inherently implies that both law enforcement personnel and citizens have the potential to affect the outcome of the event based upon their responses.”
The proportion of those affected by school shooting incidents has increased considerably over the last two decades; nearly one in every four of the 160 incidents identified by the FBI occurred in or around educational facilities.
In response, there’s a bill proposal currently gaining traction in Florida—not four months after a gunman wounded three students on Florida State’s campus. It would allow those with concealed weapons to carry them onto a public university and college campus.
Coincidentally, classrooms in the United States, like virtually every other facet of society, have never had more technology at their disposal than they do now. Some schools have installed smoke alarm-sized sensorsthat are activated by the sounds of gunfire and can alert authorities without so much as a phone call. Others have implemented bulletproof glass, infrared cameras, and metal detectors. The Jewett Middle Academy Magnet went so far as to stage an impromptu active shooter drill in November, where police officers entered classrooms with AR-15 rifles drawn. Seventh-grader Lauren Marionneaux and others texted their parents thinking that assailants had come to kill them.
With a Republican-controlled Congress, gun control groups across the nation have been looking for money and ideas as they expect to watch legislature swing in favor of gun rights expansion. In the wake of Sandy Hook, President Obama’s effort to pass mandatory background checks never got off the ground. And since, many states have even loosened gun restrictions.
Former Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords re-introduced gun control legislation on Capitol Hill in March, but it’s as yet unclear if anything will come of it.
In efforts to curb the harrowing trajectory of school shootings, companies like Hardwire Armor Systems manufactured myriad security advancements for campuses nationwide. Hardwire chief executive and chairman George Tunis began by making bulletproof clipboards for classrooms. In August, along with the backing of State Senator Nicole Poore, Hardwire unveiled the pilot shield program for the Colonial School District. The program outfitted the classrooms with bulletproof whiteboards that cost $400 each.
But with this new technology comes more important questions: How do you walk the line between preparation and endorsing prepubescent trauma? How can one whiteboard stop a gunman or multiple gunmen from killing students who aren’t wielding them? Does this motion to implement literal shields in classrooms signal that a fair portion of society has given up on the gun control debate?