Armed teachers train to stop potential active shooters in Utah schools

"Those parents send those kids to school expecting that they're going to be kept safe. Right now that's on the teachers," said 4th grade teacher Jeff Mortensen.

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By Farah Otero-Amad and Gadi Schwartz

Brenda Betteridge closes her eyes, takes a breath, and pulls the trigger. She nails the gunman.

“One more. Put it in the head,” a police officer instructed her, as she fired away at the cardboard prop representing a gunman.

Betteridge is one of dozens of teachers and other school administrators undergoing active shooting training with the Utah County Sheriff's Department to stop, shoot, and kill anyone who may threaten the lives of their students.

Just four days ago, a teenage gunman opened fire and killed two students, wounded three others before shooting himself in the head in Santa Clarita, California.

Active shooter trainings for educators have become more common nationwide. Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith started these exercises in Spanish Fork because he wanted to make sure these educators were properly trained.

“If teachers are carrying guns, well, I want them to know how to use a gun,” Smith said.

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Following a recent lockdown in Salt Lake City school district, deputies found teachers had left guns unsecured various places including in desks or inside of a purse. Smith was worried that some faculty were already bringing weapons to school around children without any training which is what led him to host the six-week training course.

Cindy Bullock, Timpanogos Academy secretary, participates in shooting drills at the Utah County Sheriff's Office shooting range during the teacher's academy training, in Spanish Fork Canyon, Utah on June 29, 2019.Rick Bowmer / AP file

The firearm training is voluntary, but the Utah County Sheriff’s Teachers Academy already has a waitlist for its next six-week program. While administrators, librarians, and custodians have signed up for the class, the majority of participants are teachers, including 4th grade teacher Jeff Mortensen.

“Those parents send those kids to school expecting that they’re going to be kept safe,” said Mortensen. “Right now, that’s on the teachers.”

The course covers everything from first aid for a child gunshot victim, to self-defense, de-escalation, and even shooting targets using guns. Sheriff Smith believes that these classes will help equip teachers with the tools necessary to protect their students if they are faced with an active shooter on campus.

“Everybody hopes it never happens. But at the end of the day, hope is a terrible strategy for success,” Smith said.

At least 42 states require schools to conduct safety or security drills such as lock downs, active-shooter or similar safety drills, according to the Education Commission of the States. Utah is one of at least nine states that allow teachers to carry guns in public schools, as long as they are secured and concealed.

Some school safety experts are not in favor of arming and training educators to take down active shooters.

“Teachers want to be armed with technology and textbooks and the tools to provide instruction. They are not employed in a position to provide public safety services,” said Ken Trump, a school safety expert with the National School Safety and Security Services consulting firm.

“A principal is not qualified to play the role of police chief to make sure that their staff members are properly armed with the right equipment,” he added.

Trump goes on to say that when law enforcement arrives on the scene during an active shooter situation, they will not be able to easily distinguish the teacher holding a gun from the actual gunman threatening their livelihood.

But in Utah, the guns are already in the schools and some teachers are seriously weighing the decision to come to class armed. “That’s my job,” said Mortensen. “They look to me as the person who’s going to keep them safe.”

CORRECTION (Nov. 26, 11:17 a.m. ET) An earlier version of this article misstated the type of firearm used in the course to shoot targets. It uses guns but not sniper rifles.