A central Minnesota school district where two students were killed in a 2003 shooting is getting a new device that officials hope adds another layer of defense should a gunman enter school grounds: bulletproof whiteboards.
The Rocori School District plans to equip each classroom and some common areas with whiteboards made out of Dyneema, a material that the manufacturer said is 2½ times stronger than the material used in police-issue bulletproof vests. The boards can hang on a classroom wall like any other marker board, but in event of a shooting, a teacher could use it as a shield.
"We are one of the handful of schools in the nation that knows what's it like to put kids in lockdown for real. We heard loudly what that did to those students," Cold Spring Police Chief Phil Jones told The Associated Press on Monday. "This is the best development in school safety I've ever seen in my life."
The manufacturer, Maryland-based Hardwire LLC, has been working on armor protection devices for military vehicles and personnel for years. But after the Connecticut elementary school shootings in December that killed 20 children and six educators, the company decided to expand to school security.
The whiteboards are 18 inches by 20 inches, weigh less than 4 pounds, have handles on the back, and are said to absorb rounds from handguns or shotguns without ricochet, according to Hardwire's website. Company officials said the whiteboards are already in schools in North Dakota and Maryland, and are being rolled out in Pennsylvania and California districts. Jones said Rocori schools are the first to use them in Minnesota.
But at least one security expert questioned whether the boards would be effective. Bill Nesbitt, president of school security consulting firm Security Management Services International, wasn't familiar with the whiteboards but said his initial reaction was that they may provide a false sense of security. The prudent thing to do would be to retreat from danger rather than hide behind a whiteboard, he said.
After the Connecticut school shooting, people began talking about everything from arming teachers to bulletproof backpacks — but they continue to miss the nuts and bolts of lockdown training and other proven measures, said Ken Trump, a school security consultant and president of National School Safety and Security Services.
"People are going to radical, extreme ideas. In reality they are just short of ridiculous," he said. "People are grasping for straws and in doing so, they are creating a false sense of security because they are shifting their attention away from doing those fundamental things that will actually make them safe."
Jones and Scott Staska, the Rocori superintendent, noted that the boards only supplement their larger security plan, which includes lockdown drills, school resource officers and a single point of entry.
Staska said many teachers see it as an extra layer of defense, but he noted that school security is a sensitive issue. Staska said he had some initial reservations, mostly because he didn't want to acknowledge that such security is necessary.
Page 2 of 2 - "Hopefully the board will hang on the wall for 50 years and never have to be used as anything but a marker board," Staska said. "If you don't have it, you have a classroom with no protection. With it, you at least have an opportunity to have some protection."
In 2003, a 15-year-old boy brought a gun to Rocori High School and fatally shot 14-year-old Seth Bartell and 17-year-old Aaron Rollins. The gunman, who is serving a life sentence, was convinced by a teacher to put the gun down.
Rollins's father, Tom Rollins, said he doesn't believe the whiteboards would have saved Aaron or Seth. But he said it's a good idea, adding that if the teen gunman had decided to keep shooting, such a board may have helped other students.
"He still had seven more shells in his gun, so who knows what would've happened," Rollins said.
The district has 170 of the $300 boards, about half of which were purchased by Coldspring, formerly Cold Spring Granite Company. The school district bought the rest after a construction project came in under budget.
Jones said when he first saw the boards, he laughed. But after testing them himself, shot after shot, he was sold.
"School shootings are going to continue," the police chief said, adding that the government isn't going to come through with a solution. "The answer is not going to fall from the sky. ... If you want a safe school, you are going to have to make it."