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Teachers acted quickly to help save lives during theater shooting

Many of the nation’s teachers are now among the best prepared to handle mass shootings like the one that occurred in a Louisiana movie theater Thursday night, largely because school systems across the country have been training them in how to handle active-shooter situations. Horrific school shootings, like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary in late 2012, highlighted the need for such training and showed how teachers have displayed great heroism in the face of grave danger: One teacher died at the Connecticut school while shielding her students from a hail of bullets.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, are now praising two Jeanerette High School teachers – Ali Viator Martin and Jena Legnon Meaux – who were among those wounded when a man began shooting moviegoers in Lafayette. One woman jumped on top of the other to shield her from the gunfire, and Martin, wounded, got herself to a fire alarm and pulled it, sending out the call for help.

Jindal, in a news conference, commended the women for their acts of heroism and said that they likely saved many lives.

“A lot of folks in that situation would just be thinking about themselves,” Jindal said. “She had the presence of mind to think, all right, even though she was shot in the leg, she saved other people.”

The president of the local teacher’s union, Cammie Maturin, has started a GoFundMe page for the two women to help them pay for medical bills. Maturin taught with the pair a few years ago at the high school, and said Martin was always going out of her way to help others. She believes the training she and other teachers received helped them stay calm in the midst of the chaos in the movie theater.

“It goes to show you that they didn’t panic and did exactly what was taught,” Maturin said.

Inette Malveaux, who has taught Louisiana history for a decade at Anderson Middle School and is vice president of the teacher’s union, said she has done lockdown drills since she started. When her school goes on lockdown, she instructs students to crouch behind their desks and she then covers windows and locks doors. It becomes like “muscle memory” for teachers, and she believes that’s what kicked in when the teachers in the theater reacted.

“It’s something that we practice for,” she said.

According to the Baton Rouge Advocate, Martin is an English teacher and has been with the Iberia Parish School System for seven years. Meaux is the school’s librarian and has been with the school system for more than two decades. “Who could imagine on a Thursday evening sitting there watching a movie in Lafayette, Louisiana, and have something like this happen,” Superintendent Dale Henderson told the Advocate. “You’re not in that mode of thinking, but evidently, they both reacted very well and very quickly.”

Weingarten, the AFT president, also praised the women, saying their actions “were nothing short of heroic.”

“We thank her profusely,” Weingarten said in a statement. “Teachers are everyday heroes who are well-trained to make a difference in the lives of their students. Teachers naturally have the instinct deep down in their souls to help others. We saw that in the Newtown, Conn., massacre and again last night in Lafayette. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those who were killed and to those injured. But more than thoughts and prayers, let us take action to curb gun violence and end these mass shootings for once and for all.”

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