Should high school students learn to stop traumatic bleeding in the same way many learn other life-saving techniques, like CPR?
The suggestion has stoked frustration, and some sarcasm, from gun-control advocates who believe Congress and federal officials have not done enough to change gun laws and boost school safety after two large school shootings in Parkland, Fla., and Santa Fe, Texas.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans to award $1.8 million in grants for the development of “School-Age Trauma Training” programs to teach students how to respond to tramautic hemorrhaging during “mass casualty events,” including school shootings, the Young Turks,a left-leaning commentary site, first reported Monday.
“Uncontrolled bleeding is the number one cause of preventable death from trauma,” says a solicitation for grant applications, quoting the Stop the Bleed campaign created by the American College of Surgeons. “The greater number of people who know how to control bleeding in an injured patient, the greater the chances the patient surviving that injury.”
School shootings are rare and, despite public perception otherwise, violent deaths in schools have not trended upward significantly in recent years.
The descriptions for the grant program say the training is to prepare students for “mass casualty events,” which could include natural disasters. But a statement of objectives for the program discusses one scenario specifically: school shootings.
“Since 2000, school shootings have occurred in 43 of 50 states, resulting in over 250 deaths to students and teachers and hundreds more injured,” the grant materials say. “There have been 7 targeted shootings at schools in the first 45 days of 2018 alone. Similar to how students learn health education and driver’s education, they must learn proper bleeding control techniques using commonly available materials; including how to use their hands, dressings and tourniquets. Victims can quickly die from uncontrolled bleeding within five to 10 minutes; however, anyone at the scene can act as immediate responder and save lives if they know what to do.”
The grant was posted in July, but plans for the program have been in development for about a year, DHS spokesperson John Verrico said. That means it predates the Parkland shooting in February.
Training High School Students to Be First Responders
The training fits into a greater emphasis on training bystanders for emergency preparedness so they can quickly react to things like natural disasters, shootings, and other tramatic events while they await first responders, Verrico said.
A national Stop the Bleed campaign already provides courses to the public. Some states provide “stop the bleed” kits to schools and special training to teachers along with other emergency response techniques, like how to respond to a severe allergy attack. Georgia adopted such a program after the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
In a growing number of states, CPR training is mandatory for high school graduation. In strategic meetings, federal officials likened trauma training to public awareness campaigns of the past, like teaching young students how to “stop, drop, and roll” if their clothes catch fire.
It’s relatively uncommon to teach high school students to respond to bleeding, but a 2017 video from the Modesto Bee shows California students learning “to stanch uncontrolled bleeding in the event of vehicle crashes, shootings and other incidents.”
A Federal Response to School Shootings
Still, the mental image of teenagers rushing to save their peers during a shooting is understandably troubling to many. And some, like this Florida doctor, questioned whether it’s practical to offer such training to students.
Soldiers and emergency medical personnel need to know proper tourniquet application and use. It can absolutely save lives.
It is mind-boggling that lawmakers think this is a necessary skill for high school students.
-- Barry Schapiro MD (@bschapiroMD) August 14, 2018
Stories about the grant also drew criticism from members of groups like Moms Demand Action, which has pushed for tighter gun restrictions after school shootings, and from some parents who’ve lost children in school attacks. That includes Fred Guttenberg, who lost his daughter Jaime in the Parkland shooting.
Our current legislators will not deal with guns but instead want to give $1.8m to teach children how to stop the bleed once they are shot. Cannot make this up. If you have a Congressman or Senator who refuses to deal with guns, fire them in November!!! //t.co/nHI0fsDSp5
-- Fred Guttenberg (@fred_guttenberg) August 14, 2018
While federal officials haven’t passed any new gun laws in recent months, they have made some school safety efforts. President Donald Trump, who flip-flopped on new gun restrictions after the Parkland shooting, signed the STOP School Violence Act into law as part of a larger spending bill in March. That bill includes grant funding to train teachers and students to recognize warning signs of violence, money for anonymous reporting systems, and grants for other security infrastructure.
And U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos chairs a school safety commission that has heard from experts, advocates, and educators about issues like bullying and arming teachers, though much of that testimony has covered ground that is pretty familiar to those who have followed school safety debates for years.
School Shootings Remain Rare
Important context to any school safety conversation: School shootings remain statistically rare, and federal data shows that, by many measures, schools have actually gotten safer over time. But that data hasn’t quelled public fear about such events.
Read more about what we know about school shootings in this Education Week explainer: School Shootings: Five Critical Questions
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.