Florida Christian School in Miami put a few order forms on its website to make school supply shopping easier. Parents can purchase their children T-shirts bearing the school’s logo or some snugly winter wear. Or, for $120, they can buy them bullet-resistant panels designed to slip into their backpacks in case of a school shooting.
The nondenominational kindergarten through 12th grade school hasn’t been the scene of any gun violence, but its private security wants to be prepared just in case. The panel is a “tool” to help protect children in case of a horrific event, just like its sound-enabled surveillance cameras and active shooter drills, according to George Gulla, the school’s head of security.
“I’d rather be prepared for the worst than be stuck after saying ‘Wow, I wish we would’ve done that,’” Gulla told the Miami Herald.
The panel comes from Applied Fiber Concepts, a body armor company based in nearby Hialeah and owned by Alex Cejas, who has two children at the school. He attended one of Gulla’s active shooting drills last year and suggested the company make custom armor plates for students.
“While books and stuff in your backpack may stop a bullet, they’re not designed to,” Cejas told the Miami Herald. “I wouldn’t bet my life on it.”
The slim panels, which weigh less than a pound, can slip easily in the students’ backpacks among their school books. They’re reportedly able to protect students from bullets such as a .44 Magnum or a .357 SIG, both pistol cartridges. Stopping rifle bullets would require heavier armor.
Students are taught to hold their backpacks containing the panels over their chests in case of an active shooters.
“We want to protect our students’ center mass,” Gulla said.
His company isn’t the only business marketing bulletproof “accessories” to schools in the aftermath of mass shootings across the county. Bullet Blocker, a Massachusetts company, began developing a range of products after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 that left 32 dead. The company’s products include bulletproof backpacks, fleeces, briefcases — and even binder inserts to place among loose-leaf paper.
After the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting that killed 20 first-graders and six educators, Bullet Blocker saw a spike in bulletproof backpack sales — selling about 10,000 in three weeks, even though it normally sold 20 a week, Marketplace reported.
The focus isn’t only on backpacks. For instance, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore purchased hundreds of bulletproof whiteboards in 2013, as did the Minnesota Rocori School District, where a shooting left two students dead in 2003.
“It’s a writing tablet that doubles as a bulletproof shield,” university spokesman William Robinson told CNN Money.
Not everyone thinks buying students ballistic armor is the best way to protect them. School safety consultant Kenneth Trump is among the loudest voices decrying the practice.
“Focus on fundamentals and get back to the basics,” Trump told NPR. “There is a security product for every possible need that your budget will buy. The question is, is that the best use of limited resources?”
For Florida Christian School, however, Gulla thinks the option to buy the backpack inserts might calm some parents.
“We thought, yeah, let’s offer it to anyone who wants it,” he told the Miami Herald. “It’s not required. But if it gives you extra peace of mind.”
“It’s out of the norm, but what is the norm?” he added.
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