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Children return to school in Newtown, Conn., on Tuesday.
When Monday morning came — the first day back after a gunman killed 20 first-graders in Connecticut — Texas school teacher Kelly Froemming found herself looking at her classroom for its prospects as a bunker.
There was perhaps enough room for kids to hide under her desk and under a table. Her classroom door can be locked from the inside and she has an oversized filing cabinet that she could use as an additional barricade.
"We do have intruder drills," said Froemming, who teaches gifted students at a grade school in Plano, Texas. The mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday "makes it more real. It makes it scarier. You think about the logistics of what might happen and how you could protect the kids."
If the emotional toll for teachers was not enough, many are also reviewing security — racking their brains for ways to safeguard students, wondering whether the school is doing enough to deter intruders, pondering whether carrying weapons could help, hoping they would be heroic in the face of a threat, and wondering if any of it would make any difference in the face of a perpetrator determined to cause bloodshed.
"I've had some pretty dark thoughts as I’m standing there" in the classroom, said Benno Lyon, a sixth-grade science teacher at a school in Portland.
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In the past four to five days, he says, he’s thought through everything on the safety spectrum — from "just hoping that it’s not us next time," to arming the whole staff. "What is in between those two extremes that might make sense?" he muses.
Many U.S. schools, public and private, have "lock-down" drills — like the intruder drills that Froemming mentioned — just as they have fire drills, and drills for natural disasters such as earthquakes and tornadoes. In general, this means classroom doors are locked, kids shelter in place — preferably away from windows, and if possible, out of sight — in storage rooms, closets, bathrooms.
After Friday’s devastating shootings, a national discussion board for teachers lit up with grief -- and discussions of "what if" the worst-case scenario unfolded in their own schools.
There is no standard for school security in this country, but in the wake of the tragic Sandy Hook shooting, there is plenty of talk on what changes schools can make to ensure the safety of their students. NBC's Erica Hill reports.
Like 'fish in an aquarium'
One telling thread started with a "safety survey" of four questions: "Do you have only one entry way to your campus? Can you close your classroom curtains and completely cover your windows? Does your classroom door have an inside locking mechanism? When was the last time you practiced a lockdown drill?"
"Wide open back campus with a fence anyone could jump," wrote one participant. "A gate in back fence, often left just open with a chain on it that small person could squeeze through. Houses on one side where people could hide, use something to climb on to jump the fence."
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"No way to cover many huge, low windows," wrote another. "My room is in the middle of a quad so we would be trapped and it would be like shooting fish in an aquarium."
"I keep (my door) locked and shut during the day, but the teacher in the room next to me, never locks his door or refuses to shut it," one teacher complained. "We share a hallway with bathrooms so, anyone going into his room has complete access to mine via the connecting bathrooms. The doors going to the bathrooms cannot be locked."
"No, my door doesn't have an inside locking mechanism, it can only be locked from the outside," wrote another. "We practice lockdowns regularly but … Nothing would have prepared us for what happened in Conn. There are 32 kids in my small room — no place to hide children."
Missy Dodds, a teacher in Maplewood, Minn., survived a school shooting in 2005 and has ever since been urging school officials to replace glass in and near classroom doors. A gunman entered her classroom by breaking the glass panel next to her locked door, then killed five of her students and a teacher. According to a report from NBC station KARE of Minneapolis, Dodds was horrified to learn that Adam Lanza, the gunman in the Connecticut school had reportedly used the same means to gain entrance to Sandy Hook Elementary.
A North Texas superintendent defends his district's policy that allows teachers and staff to carry concealed handguns. KFDX reporter Melissa Foy has the story.
Allow guns in schools?
There are some teachers — though none of those who spoke to NBC News for this report — who believe that teachers should be allowed to carry weapons to deter or halt school intruders.
"I am all for it," wrote a participant on the Texas section of the national teachers discussion forum. "That is, teachers with a concealed carry license to be able to exercise the same right to protect themselves and their charges that they do anywhere else. The reason mass killers target schools is because they know full well no one will be able to stop them … I hope Texas leads the way in recognizing reality and implementing common sense."
In Texas, a state representative-elect has proposed legislation that would allow Texas public schools to appoint trained and certified faculty members to carry a concealed firearm and to use the weapon in the event of an attack, according to a report from the Dallas Morning News. Similar legislation is being considered in Michigan.
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"In today's world, I'm a firm believer in an armed and properly trained teacher," wrote another forum participant who said their job was as a special education advocate. "It's unfortunate to say, but had there been an armed teacher in that building today, some of those people may have been saved."
But the teachers who agreed to interviews were adamant that teachers should not be armed, though some thought the idea of armed and trained security personnel in schools would be acceptable. The threat of accidental shootings or guns getting into a student's hands was too great, several said. Others said that wearing a gun sends the wrong message from people whose job is to educate and nurture students.
David Friedman / NBC News
A nation mourns after the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history at Sandy Hook Elementary, which left 20 children and six staff members dead.
"How many teachers would shield their children with their bodies?" said Lyon of his fellow teachers. "All of them. How many would keep teaching if they had to carry a weapon?" He would not, he said, nor, he guessed, would many — if any — of his fellow teachers at the school.
"There is no reason whatsoever that a teacher should ever, ever bring a gun into school," said Joni Schultheiss, who teaches 11th grade in a New York City public school. "We are already acting as psychologists and counselors and teaching manners ... Please don’t make us soldiers also."
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"The (New York City) school district does a good job with security. But really, to protect everybody at all times, it would be like a prison," she said. "You can lock down the school, put bars on the windows. But you have to be realistic about what the school is for in the first place, and strike a balance."
Lyon warns of an "arms race" in school security and wonders what would happen "if you took all the resources it would take to lock down schools, and redirected that to comprehensive effort on handling people with mental health issues, and some reasonable gun regulations."
In Michigan, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder on Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have let some gun owners to bring concealed weapons to schools and day care centers, among other places, his office said. The bill passed the legislature the day before the Newton shootings, Reuters reported.
'Hyper-vigilant around the kids'
Noble Monyei, who works with a K-5 after-school program in Seattle, also questions whether there is a security approach that could really address the problem of a determined assailant and said the Connecticut tragedy will not change his outlook day-to-day.
"I think for me I’m always hyper-vigilant around the kids. I want to get them back to their parents in one piece," he said.
He thinks studying broader issues — like easy access to weapons, and gaps in mental health care — could lead to solutions. Short of that, and reasonable security precautions, Monyei says, it seems to be a matter of chance.
"I think there’s something out there, and it can happen anywhere. If that kind of craziness chooses you, there’s not much you can do."
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Gene Rosen was finishing up his morning routine this past Friday when he noticed six small children sitting at the end of his driveway. He soon discovered they were some of the lucky ones to escape gunfire alive. He talks about taking them into his home and learning that their teacher, Victoria Soto, had been killed.
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