Bulletproof Classrooms: Solution or Sign of the Times?

school_shootingsWith the recent upsurge in school shootings – 43 in the last three years, resulting in 76 and 64 injuries – its little wonder why various school-based options at are being explored. These range from more guns (arming teachers and administrators) to incorporating special alarms that would allow for high-speed response. But perhaps the most creative (albeit odd) response comes in the form of a bulletproofing a classroom.

Specifically, armored whiteboards and bulletin boards (known as “Safeboards”) are being proposed as a last line of defense against gunmen. Developed by the International Armoring Corporation – a Utah-based company that manufactures lightweight armored passenger vehicles for heads of state, celebrities, and even the Pope – these boards are unobtrusive classroom objects that double as bulletproof barriers.
safeboard1In the event of a shooting, a teacher could manually slide and lock them in front of a door within a few seconds. Another version folds away from the wall to create a classroom safe haven that could fit up to 37 average-sized first graders. The Safeboards are capable of resisting the bullets of high-powered rifles, like those used in a number of school shootings in recent years.

The company began developing the product last year before the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut took place. After a few school officials near IAC’s headquarters heard about how the company manufacture lightweight armor for protective vehicles, they asked if there were any affordable products that could improve safety in the event of a school shooting.

safeboard2Bulletproof doors already exist, but they expensive and are very heavy. This can be problematic since these doors still need to be used by children dozens of times a day. According to IAC’s CEO Mark Burton, the sliding Safeboard, made with the firm’s standard lightweight material, starts at $1,850 and is light enough that it can be open and closed even by children.

Though no purchases have been made yet, the risk management director of the David School District of Utah (home to some 70,000 students), a school architect and a police liaison witnessed a demonstration of the technology. The district has already upgraded its alarms and camera systems, but director Scott Zigich, indicated that additional measures are being weighed:

Just this week [the country] had a shooting at an airport, a shooting at a school, a shooting at a mall. We are very active in trying to increase the safety level of our students and employees due to the frequent nature of violent attacks.

hardwireThe state of Utah and IAC are hardly alone on this issue. Earlier this year, another company in Maryland responded to the need for added security by developing small armored whiteboards that would act more like individual shields. Here, the company behind the design is Hardwire, whose product is already being featured at the Worcester Preparatory School in Berlin, Maryland.

Interestingly enough, these whiteboards use the same light material that is used by company to protect military vehicles from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, many schools have come to see the issue of gun violence in terms of guerrilla warfare, and are responding accordingly. According to Hardwire CEO George Tunis:

[The Whiteboards] basically take handguns out of the equation. We can certainly make them to stop any threat in the world, but what we wanted was something handheld for the teachers.

SchoolShootingsFor some time, a debate has raged around the United States, especially in the wake of Sandy Hook shooting. At its core is the question of what constitutes appropriate defensive measures for schools in a society where guns are easy for almost anyone to obtain. And some schools have considered armed guards or even armed teachers.

However, people like Mark Burton believes guns as a defense weapon often do more harm than good in schools, and considers the Safeboard to be a less disruptive and cost-effective measure that could give a classroom under siege needed time until police arrive. For budget-strapped schools, the decision is a financial issue as well as a safety one.

school_shootings1Over the lifetime of the product, Burton claims a Safeboard would cost as little as $5 a student, and IAC will also offer a financing program. But ultimately, its about finding ways to deal with the issue that doesn’t involve escalation. As Burton explained:

This is whole new territory. It’s kind of a fine line to walk. It is a sensitive issue, but in some cases, I think it could save lives.

And in the end, one has to wonder, are armored classrooms the only recourse to arming teachers and administrators? Is the issue of gun control really so elusive and untouchable that Americans must choose between more armor or more weapons in schools? What does it take to protect our children without treating our classrooms like they are warzones?

Sources: fastcoexist.com, www.wjla.com