Earlier this week, NEA-NH President Megan Tuttle testified before a House Committee hearing HB 1415, a bill establishing a death benefit for a school employee killed in the line of duty. This bill is one of NEA-NH’s legislative priorities this year and is similar to one introduced previously. Many of the concerns raised by House members last session before killing the bill have been addressed in this year’s version. Here is a copy of her testimony:
“When I first became a teacher 19 years ago, nobody told me that part of being an educator included being expected to put myself in harms way to face violent situations and other emergency circumstances.
There has been a proliferation of school violence across this country over the past few years, and as a result, educators have become the protectors and shields in those situations. When police and fire are called to respond to an emergency at a school, it is the employees at those schools who “hold the fort” while waiting for them to arrive.
New Hampshire has been extremely fortunate that it has not seen the worst of this escalation, and it is my hope that it never will, but should the worst happen, I think that the family of an educator who gives up their life in defense of a student deserves some compensation for their sacrifice.
In 2007, the legislature passed HB 556, which requires all schools to develop an emergency response plan to respond to incidents of violence, natural disasters, hazardous materials releases, and medical emergencies. In doing so, the Legislature recognized that the threats faced by schools are unique.
All schools across this state perform regular drills throughout the school year. These drills include fire drills, lockdowns, shelter in place, evacuations, and reverse evacuations, just to name a few. The specific procedures differ from school to school, but the goal is always the same. Protecting the students is an educator’s first priority.
This bill, HB 1415, is intended to cover all education staff, teachers, ESPs, and administrators, from kindergarten through college.
Beyond being trained and expected to act in an emergency, New Hampshire educators will instinctively move to protect the children in their care, putting themselves in harm’s way when the need arises. This level of dedication, caring and protection creates the need for this legislation.
The training educators get to respond to these situations is extensive. I have here but one example of a school system’s crisis plan. It is 32 pages long, outlines specific duties for different types of employees, and has flow charts for responding to over twenty specific emergencies. The topics they cover vary from bomb threats to fires; plane crashes to utility outages, and hostage situations to earthquakes.
Homeland security sees the issue as so important they have an active shooter simulator that puts teachers in a virtual shooting incident to prepare them for a real one.
When we reached out to members, some informed us they were asked not to discuss their emergency plans to prevent anyone from using them to exploit the planned responses.
As I said previously, we have been lucky in New Hampshire. And hopefully this bill, if passed, is never used. But unfortunately, we have to face the reality that one day it might.
What the educators and principals in places like Columbine and Sandy Hook did for the children in their care could win a soldier in a war zone a Purple Heart. But the soldier makes a conscious decision to face mortal danger when he or she enlists. Educators do not. The danger finds them and tests them in what should be one of the safest places of all, their classroom. Facing down a gunman, placing yourself in the path of flying debris or bullets, forfeiting your life to protect innocents in your care. It’s a job description fitting of a soldier, first responder, or police officer, but for a kindergarten teacher?
Should the unthinkable happen here, an educator’s sacrifice should be recognized just as we recognize the sacrifice of our police and firefighters.