Bullet Proof Whiteboards: An Education Parody

The guns in schools debate tends to gain and lose steam in cycles.  When a notorious attack such as the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT happens, the debate flares into public view.  In recent years, more people are coming to the realization that the only thing that can stop an active shooter is having people willing and able to stop them present at the time and place of the attack, good guys and girls that can shoot back.

Fortunately, the states have the power to allow teachers and other school staff to be armed, and to abolish “gun free schools zones,” which all but the willfully obtuse must admit not only fail to prevent school attacks, they make attacks easier and safer–for the attackers.  The willfully obtuse include President Obama, and Congressional Democrats, which ensures that the road to making schools truly safe will include many roadblocks.

This leads to a variety of well-intentioned, stop gap measures, such as that reported by Fox News under this headline:  “Safety lesson: College arms faculty with bullet-proof whiteboards.”

Professors at a Maryland university will be dispensing knowledge this fall from whiteboards that have a special property – they can stop a bullet.

The University of Maryland-Eastern Shore bought 200 of the portable writing boards – the modern day equivalent of chalkboards – which can also protect the user from gunshots. The move, and the idea of the boards themselves, seems tied to the school shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007 and in Sandy Hook Connecticut last year.

‘We feel that this could be a model for other schools and how to improve public safety,’ Juliette Bell, President of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore said to FoxNews.com. ‘Being the first college to adopt this we hope other campuses will follow.’

The boards are manufactured by Pocomoke City, MD based Hardwire, cost about $300 and measure 18-by-20 inches.  A 20” X 40” 7-pound model costs $500.00.

‘When you add armor you lower bullets.’

– George Tunis, president of Hardwire…

‘This provides a way for teachers to provide their students some protection.

A gun is a very mobile device,’ he added. ‘This provides equally mobile protection for teachers.

One cannot begrudge Mr. Tunis making an honest dollar, and one might even accord the University some credit for doing more than reflexively trying to deprive the law-abiding of guns.  The whiteboard weighs a bit less than four pounds and has two shield-like handles. But the effort, however well intentioned, is far too little, and of dubious effectiveness.  This is an actual Hardwire whiteboard (photo via the Hardwire website).

credit: Hardwire
credit: Hardwire

Teachers at Eastern Shore will receive training in the coming days as the fall semester begins in how to properly use the bulletproof shield.

‘Any kind of technology to prevent or deter an attack is a positive,’ Alison Kiss, executive director for The Clery Center for Security on Campus, told FoxNews.com. ‘All campuses should be pro-active when it comes to campus safety. Use of these boards certainly has to be coupled with threat assessment teams.

“Threat assessment teams.”  How might that work?  Put a number of people in a room and agree that there is a threat that could be serious?  Is a committee/team really necessary to come to that understanding?  Fortunately, not everyone appears quite so bureaucratically minded:

S. Daniel Carter, Director of the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative tells FoxNews.com that it may be too soon to tell whether use of the whiteboards in the classroom will have a positive effect.

‘We have not had a chance to specifically evaluate personal armor for use in the higher education setting,’ he said. ‘We do feel strongly that it is important for schools to wisely invest in security infrastructure and training, as well as to adopt and rigorously test comprehensive emergency response and evacuation policies and procedures.

Are “threat assessment teams” a “pro-active” means of dealing with “campus safety?”  Are “comprehensive emergency response and evacuation policies and procedures”–call the police, and hide or run away! Run away!–effective?

Only if the hardware, policy and methods their assessments identify and promulgate actually deter and stop shooters.

This is a reality ignored by the media, including the New York Times, whose article reads like parody:

THE University of Maryland Eastern Shore will introduce a security upgrade later this year: 200 bulletproof whiteboards for professors to hang in their classrooms and, if need be, hide behind. ‘We just wanted to add one more tool to help us ensure the safety of the campus community,’  said Ernest Leatherbury, chief of campus police. ‘The whiteboards are user-friendly and noninvasive.

credit: William P. O'Donnell/The NYT
credit: William P. O’Donnell/The NYT

The NYT accompanied its article with this photograph.  Notice that about 2/3 of the teacher’s body is exposed to fire and with their head behind the whiteboard, they can’t see what’s happening.  Parody.

The Times article claims that Hardwire has supplied the boards to “entire school districts in Maryland, Minnesota and North Dakota.”  Even so, some who might be in a position to use them are less than sold on the idea:

Michel Demanche, an art professor, was skeptical — ‘I’m 4 feet 11 and about 120 pounds’ — but she attended a demonstration. Officials shot at her shield with an air gun. ‘It did not knock me down,’ she said. ‘I could hold it, and the power of the bullet was deflected.

An air gun?!  One would hope that “the power of the bullet was deflected,” but one might imagine that an actual school shooter might be more effectively armed.  The NYT demonstrated its martial knowledge and seriousness by concluding its article thus:

Bonus: you can write on them.

This will no doubt be a comfort to the unarmed victims, should any of them survive.

Mr. Carter, and the New York Times, I hereby present a complete evaluation of “bulletproof shield” technology in the educational setting, free of charge and obligation.

Unfortunately, for the most part, such “teams” begin with the unshakeable conviction that arming teachers and administrators is impossible, even more dangerous than allowing deranged shooters free reign.  All of their solutions inevitably fall far short of the only change in policy that will not only deter shooters, but save lives.

There is no such thing as “bullet proof,” at least not in the applications that are the topic of discussion.  All vests and ballistic shields like the whiteboards are bullet resistant, but only to certain levels of protection.  They will surely stop air gun projectiles, but because the whiteboards in question weigh a bit less than four pounds, it’s clear they offer protection only from common handgun ammunition (and likely non-sabot shotgun ammunition).  Rifle ammunition would penetrate them with no difficulty.  The same is true for the vests police officers wear on daily duty.  The difference is some officers actually wear them.

Keep in mind that these whiteboards are just large enough–a bit more than double the width and a bit less than double the height of a standard piece of 8.5” x 11” copier paper–to cover the torso of a single person.  Unfortunately, in order to be effective, the person using a whiteboard must be able to place it between themselves and an active shooter at least a second or two before that shooter fires.  Unless each and every teacher is willing and able to carry a four to seven pound whiteboard around with them wherever they go–and while they are teaching–it is highly unlikely these shields will be within reach when and where they are needed.

But let’s assume for the moment that like Captain America (the thought of some of my teachers in red, white and blue Spandex is nearly too horrible to contemplate), a teacher is willing to do just that: they carry their whiteboard like a shield wherever they go, and while teaching, position it so that it is within reasonably easy reach wherever they are in the classroom.  A shooter bursts into the room, and the teacher has the presence of mind and the quick reactions necessary to move to and pick up their shield.  What then?  Does the teacher’s shield, as Mr. Tunis asserts, “provide their students some protection?”

As long as the teacher can consistently position that shield between the target and the muzzle–having only fractions of a second to calculate the position of the gun and the trajectory of the bullets–and as long as the bullets are handgun and not rifle bullets, the shield should work.

Unfortunately, this optimistic scenario assumes the shooter will play by some bizarre set of mutually understood rules and stand still, impotently emptying his weapon into the shield while cursing his luck.  What is virtually certain is that the killer will simply shoot the cowering teacher in a part of the body not covered by the shield, or reach out and pull it aside to expose more vulnerable target areas.  The shield may cost a shooter a few rounds before they figure out what is happening and adapt their tactics on the fly.  A shield, in optimum circumstances, might buy a teacher or student 2-5 seconds more life.

The chance that a teacher will be able to protect students with it?  Essentially nil.  To even attempt to do that would require the teacher to surrender the transitory protection of the shield in favor of a student, and assumes that under potential or actual fire, they could actually–in seconds or fractions of a second–maneuver into position to do it.  And even if this highly unlikely sequence of events occurred, the shield would be breached in exactly the same ways, and with equal speed.

Whiteboards offer the same protection as a brick wall.  Run behind it and one is safe from most handgun rounds, until, that is, a shooter chooses to walk behind the wall.

A shield, you see, is only a means to temporarily protect a warrior from the blows and projectiles of his enemy until he is in a position to use his own weapons to stop his enemy’s deadly attack.

The only way that such a shield, or even a bullet resistant vest, would be effective is if the teacher had a means to actually stop a shooter, rather than cowering behind the shield.  If they were armed and could use a shield as temporary cover allowing them to draw and fire their weapon, then the combination would make at least some sense.  Unfortunately, the problem of always carrying the shield or always remaining within arm’s reach of it remains.

But couldn’t teachers wear bullet resistant vests?  It’s actually possible, but practically impossible.  Only patrol officers routinely wear them because the threats to which they are exposed make it reasonable.  Vests are heavy, inflexible and hot, and cost as much as good quality handguns.  Teachers simply don’t run the same risks as police officers.  And even if teachers were willing to wear them, they would be no more useful than a ballistic whiteboard unless teachers were able to shoot back.  And of course, they would be no more useful to students.

There are reasons dignitaries and politicians like the President and VP often wear body armor, as do their Secret Service protectors.  But don’t expect the Secret Service to consider body armor sufficient and give up their firearms.  They know, as must we all, that body armor provides–at best–limited and temporary protection from specific levels of threats.  It does not solve the problem of people trying to kill us., nor does it deter them.

I can conceive of scenarios where a whiteboard shield might have some limited specialized usefulness, but they entirely miss the point and missing, cost $300-$500 dollars per copy.  Unless teachers have the ability to stop active shooters when and where they attack, children and students will die.  Anyone denying this inescapable reality, anyone holding up whiteboard shields and evacuation plans and drills as a solution, are tacitly accepting some level of deaths and injuries–that level to be determined by murderous madmen–because they are refusing to do what is necessary, inexpensive, and effective to stop, rather than annoy or momentarily inconvenience, school shooters.

Oh, and Mr. S. Daniel Carter and the NYT?  You have your evaluation.  No charge.  You’re welcome.