Mississippi

School chiefs prepare for possibility of facing active shooter

HATTIESBURG — In response to school shootings across the country, Mississippi superintendents are receiving training on how to respond if one happens in their schools.

“This is a big deal,” said Phillip Burchfield, executive director of the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents. “We believe that our children learn better when they feel safe and secure.”

The FBI, the Mississippi Department of Homeland Security, the Mississippi Department of Education and the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department unveiled the free school safety training course Thursday at William Carey University.

Law enforcement and emergency management members led tabletop exercises – sessions where people discussed their roles and responsibilities during an emergency.

They walked participants through how to react in an active shooter situation, how to run a family reunification center, how to operate a command post and how to work with the media during an incident.

Media representatives were not allowed to attend the training sessions.

Safety planning is critical and investments should be made to ensure a safe learning environment, Burchfield said. Many school districts don’t have a safety director, he said, so safety planning becomes part of the superintendent’s responsibility.

About 200 superintendents, school safety officers and media relations personnel from southern Mississippi counties attended the event. Thursday’s practice was the latest of three hosted by MASS at the University of Mississippi and Mississippi College.

Forrest County Superintendent Brian Freeman said that every safety training session he attends is an opportunity to learn about and adjust the district’s safety plans.

“It’s become the norm and it’s not an isolated incident anymore,” he said of school shootings. “We must be prepared.”

Jim Brinson, deputy director of the Mississippi Department of Homeland Security, said the department deals with at least one threat to schools every day.

To date, there have been 116 shootings at primary and secondary schools across the country, resulting in 52 deaths and 129 injuries, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The latest was on Monday when a 19-year-old gunman killed two and injured several others at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis before being killed by police.

There have been 25 gun and student incidents in Mississippi over the past 40 years, the Clarion Ledger reported.

These included a 1997 Pearl High School shooting in which then-16-year-old student Luke Woodham killed two students and injured seven after previously fatally stabbing his mother. Woodham is serving a life sentence at South Mississippi Correctional Institution.

Training sessions like MASS’s have helped schools prepare better, Burchfield said, but they can’t prepare schools for everything.

“I don’t think any of us are really ready, or ever will be, to deal with the scale of what an active shooter can do to a building and a community,” he said.

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