A Pennsylvania School District Is Protecting Kids & Teachers From Shootings By... Giving Them Rocks

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As anti-gun violence protests storm throughout the United States in response to the Parkland, Florida, shooting in February, media reports have highlighted an unconventional strategy of protection in one particular Pennsylvania school district. Think of river stones in buckets.

According to a Monday report by the Associated Press, the rural Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania school district, which advocated throwing river stones at shooters, will add more security to its approach starting this Monday. In a statement published on the Blue Mountain School District's website, superintendent David Helsel said that media attention to the school district's river stones plan had apparently taken the district's approach "out of context" and had "misrepresented our actual planned response to armed intruders (particularly with the planned use of stones)."

Going forward, Helsel said, the district would amplify its security plan while he noted,

This unfortunate circumstance has increased our concern regarding the possibility that something may happen because of the media attention. Starting tomorrow and into the near future, we have arranged for additional armed security for our buildings. We will continue to reevaluate this situation moving forward.

The superintendent added, "Please be assured, the safety of our students and staff is of paramount importance to us." Prior to releasing a statement to reassure parents and other observers of utmost security, Helsel gained nationwide attention in the press after outlets like BBC and ABC News showed him saying that students can use stones to thwart a firearm-wielding attacker off.

"Every classroom has been equipped with a five-gallon bucket of river stone," Helsel said on Mar. 15 while speaking in front of the Pennsylvania House Education Committee.

While speaking in front of the state's House Education Committee, Helsel said that the strategy was meant to be the "last resort" in a situation where a shooter was within school premises. Back on Mar. 15, Helsel said, "If an armed intruder attempts to gain entrance into any of our classrooms, they will face a classroom full of students armed with rocks and they will be stoned." The superintendent then added, "We have some people who have some pretty good arms. They can chuck some rocks pretty fast."

According to AP, Helsel spoke to the news agency in a telephonic interview and justified the river stone plan by saying, "We always strive to find new ways to keep our students safe." The superintendent of the Blue Mountain School District—which has an AP-reported student population of 2,700 of elementary, middle, and high school students—said that chucking stones at a shooter was more practical and "effective" than merely seeking cover under school stationery like desk and tables.

According to AP, the Blue Mountain School District hasn't limited its protection plan for students to simple buckets of river stones. The district implements and follows a program called ALICE, in which the administration and school staff alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate the premises in the wake of a school shooting. According to Helsel, the bit about river stones was part of the "counter" element of the ALICE approach.

But river stones aren't the only thing the district uses, according to the Blue Mountain School District website. In an FAQ that asks if the district has other security equipment for the schools, the district's website confirms, "Yes, all Blue Mountain Schools are equipped with intercom systems, emergency phone systems, walkie-talkies, surveillance equipment, and other security equipment."

Helsel's strategy has received a mix of support and criticism online as some question the efficiency of young students trying to protect themselves against bullets with river stones. In the United States, the Washington Post found that at least 187,000 students have witnessed or experienced gun violence while at school since the tragic Columbine school shooting in 1999.