In an effort to protect students in the event of a mass shooter, a school district in Pennsylvania has “symbolically” armed its teachers — with miniature baseball bats.
The Millcreek Township School District in Erie County, Pa., recently distributed 16-inch wooden sluggers to each of its 500 or so teachers as a way to emphasize fighting back as a possible response to an active shooter, according to superintendent William Hall.
“They’re the little souvenir bats that you buy in baseball parks,” Hall told The Washington Post. “They could be used as a weapon, but so could a number of things in a classroom.”
Hall said Millcreek officials have periodically discussed how to respond to school shootings for about five years but always with a focus on hiding from an attacker. However, the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., prompted the northwestern Pennsylvania district to revisit its policies, he said.
“Obviously, after Parkland, we went back and looked at our active shooter and hard lockdown response and realized that it had to change,” Hall said. “We had basically adopted the ‘just lock the doors and turn the lights out and hide’ approach in terms of the response. … [The modified plan] includes not just hiding but also running and, as a last resort, having to fight as necessary.”
The Parkland shooting — one of several school attacks in 2018 — left 17 students and staff members dead, and it immediately jolted nationwide discussions about school safety and gun control. In the weeks after the Florida tragedy, President Trump continued to push a proposal to arm schoolteachers.
On the other hand, the shooting also seemed to galvanize a new generation of activists, including many teenagers from Parkland, in support of stricter gun control. Hundreds of thousands of protesters appeared at March for Our Lives rallies across the country March 24 to call for an end to gun violence.
For the Millcreek school district, the response was somewhere in the middle, Hall said. Shortly after the Parkland shooting, the district sent out a survey asking how parents would feel about arming people at its schools who were not police officers.
“We weren’t at the time seriously looking at that, but we were wanting to gauge how our community felt about having a non-SRO gun presence,” Hall said. “There’s an expense involved in that, laws and training and liability — it’s problematic, obviously.”
The survey also included a space people could write in suggestions for other ways to protect students. People suggested arming teachers with rat poison, Mace and, yes, baseball bats.
The district decided it would move forward with nearly a dozen safety improvements, including building a concrete wall and an open walkway linking two of its campuses, installing security film on its windows and constructing “secured entrances” at five of its schools over the summer.
It also revised its active-shooter response plan to emphasize fighting back as an option. (True to the education world, the new plan was rolled out with an acronym — T.R.O.J.A.N. — that is also the name of one of the district’s mascots. The “A” stands for “Attack,” Hall said.)
To drive the point home, the district ordered $1,800 worth of the baseball bats and handed them out to teachers at a recent in-service training session about school safety.
“We want to change the culture in our district to incorporate best practices,” Hall said. “The little miniature bat was more of a symbolic gesture. … Unfortunately, it might come down to a situation where it’s one on one. It’s about educating people that you may need to find something in that immediate environment to protect yourself.”
Hall said the bats will be locked away during the school day and are a “last resort” option. Jon Cacchione, president of the Millcreek education union, said he supported the bats, according to Erie News Now, which first reported the news.
Hall told the news site the goal was for every classroom to have one. “Unfortunately, we’re in a day and age where one might need to use them to protect ourselves and our kids.”
However, on Wednesday, Hall emphasized to The Post that the bats were part of many other steps the district was taking to improve school safety.
“The bat story, it’s taken on a life of its own, unfortunately,” Hall said. “At the same time, I’m kind of okay with that. I want people to know that we’re looking at everything. [The bats are] obviously not the first option.”
He said district officials had not taken their cues from the Blue Mountain School District, also in Pennsylvania, which recently opted to provide buckets of rocks to students as a last-ditch effort to stop school shooters.
“They’re probably getting some heat, too. ‘What do you mean? You’re going to fight a shooter with a rock?’ ” Hall said. “That’s kind of a narrow-minded response. That’s really not what it’s about. Having a rock or a miniature baseball bat as opposed to nothing — well, that’s better than nothing.”