As schools are forced to reevaluate their safety protocols after yet another school shooting, Healdton Elementary and Middle Schools already took that step four years ago.
After a tornado tore through Moore, Oklahoma in 2013, the district was the first in the nation to implement Shelter In Place shelters in seven of their classrooms. The structures are bulletproof and customizable, meant to withstand a school shooting or a natural disaster. Healdton Elementary principal Donielle Cantwell said 35 to 40 students can fit into each one.
“They stand on the bench, sit on the bench, stand on the floor and shut the door,” Cantwell said. “You can get two teachers and forty students in there.”
Two monitors inside the shelter display a video feed of the classroom. The door locks from the inside, similar to a bank vault. The peaked roof design will stop debris from piling up on top of the shelter in an emergency, and the door opens inward to prevent students from being trapped inside.
“We have four security drills and four tornado drills,” Cantwell said. “These drills are easy and they’ve got it down to a science. They do it the same way for tornadoes.”
Healdton Superintendent Terry Shaw was approached by James Haslem, head of Shelter In Place, and Danni Legg, a storm shelter advocate. Legg, herself a graduate from Healdton High School and a former classmate of Shaw’s and Cantwell’s, lost her son in the Moore tornado.
“She’s been a huge advocate for shelters in schools since that tornado,” Shaw said.
But when the district purchased the shelters in 2014, they were worried about more.
“The sad thing is that in our society we have to worry about an intruder,” Shaw said. “That’s always in the front of my mind, especially as of late.”
Videos on the Healdton Public Schools website show Shaw and Haslem testing one of the shelters with gunfire and a tannerite bomb.
“They used every single gun that’s been used in a school shooting,” Shaw said.  
Shaw said currently, the elementary school completes the drills in less than 38 seconds. When they’re not in use, kids are allowed to play and read inside the shelters during free time, treating it like a reading nook. Some of the shelters have book shelves along the outside walls, making them blend into the classroom setting even more.  
“They paint them your school colors and they blend into the classroom,” Shaw said. “These become a part of our elementary kids’ every day. It’s like a chair in their bedroom. It’s familiar, they’re comfortable and they feel safe.”
Cantwell said teachers, including herself, first disliked the idea of a large, imposing metal vault in their classrooms. Since then, they’ve come around to them, using decorations and extra things like bean bags to make the shelters more approachable.
“Then they’re not scared of it when it’s time to really get in there,” Cantwell said. “They’re an extension of the classroom.”
The district purchased them in August 2014 and the two for the middle school in May 2017. The middle school has two larger shelters, one on each end of the building, that can hold roughly 200 people.  
They plan to add shelters to the high school as soon as possible. The high school’s basement serves as a tornado shelter for now.