MASS Executive Director Phillip Burchfield addresses south Mississippi superintendents, school safety officers and media relations staff at a training Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022, at William Carey University in Hattiesburg on how to respond to an active shooter situation. Credit: Mina Corpuz/Mississippi Today

HATTIESBURG – In response to school shootings across the country, Mississippi superintendents are receiving training on how to respond if one were to happen in their schools. 

“This is a big deal,” said Mississippi Association of School Superintendents Executive Director Phillip Burchfield. “We think our children can learn better if they feel safe and secure.” 

The FBI, Mississippi Department of Homeland Security, Mississippi Department of Education and the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department presented the free school safety training Thursday at William Carey University. 

Members of law enforcement and emergency management led tabletop exercises – sessions where people discuss their roles and responsibilities during an emergency. 

They walked attendees through how to respond during an active shooter situation, how to run a family reunification center, how a command post is operated and how to work with the media during an incident. 

Members of the media were not allowed to attend the training sessions. 

Safety planning is critical and investments should be made to ensure a safe learning environment, Burchfield said. Many school districts don’t have a safety director, he said, so safety planning becomes part of the superintendent’s responsibility. 

About 200 superintendents, school safety officers and media relations staff from districts in south Mississippi attended the event. The Thursday training was the last of three hosted by MASS at the University of Mississippi and Mississippi College. 

Forrest County Superintendent Brian Freeman said each safety training he attends is an opportunity to learn and adjust the district’s safety plans. 

“This has become the norm and they’re no longer isolated incidents,” he said about school shootings. “We have to be prepared.” 

Jim Brinson, deputy director of the Mississippi Department of Homeland Security, said the department handles at least one threat to schools every day. 

To date, there have been 116 shootings at elementary and high schools across the country that have resulted in 52 deaths and 129 injuries, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The latest was Monday when a 19-year-old gunman killed two and wounded several others at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis before he was killed by police.

In Mississippi, there have been 25 incidents involving guns and students over the last 40 years, the Clarion Ledger reported

Among those was a 1997 shooting at Pearl High School in which then 16-year-old student Luke Woodham killed two students and injured seven, after earlier fatally stabbing his mother. Woodham is serving a life sentence at the South Mississippi Correctional Institution. 

Training sessions like the ones hosted by MASS have helped schools become better prepared, Burchfield said, but they can’t prepare schools for everything. 

“I don’t think any of us anywhere is really prepared, or will we ever be prepared, to handle the magnitude of what an active shooter can do to a building and a community,” he said. 


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Mina, a California native, covers the criminal justice system. Before joining Mississippi Today, she was a reporter for the Clarion Ledger and newspapers in Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and USA Today.