Schools look into spray to subdue attackers

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Amidst a national debate over arming teachers in classrooms, the Whitefish School District is looking into a nonlethal product that could subdue would-be attackers.

Whitefish High School Principal Kerry Drown presented on a product called Reflex Protect, a tear gas-like spray used to respond to potential school violence, during the Whitefish School Board’s June 4 meeting.

Drown, also the district’s Quick Response Team Coordinator, said the team saw a demonstration of the product and unanimously agreed to open a discussion with the rest of the district.

“Our continual focus on school safety and security is an ongoing discussion, and we’re trying to stay as proactive as we can, but the world around us seems to have a lot of twists and fates that are not positive, and it just causes us to keep thinking,” Drown told the board. “This company, Reflex Protect, has designed a product to equip people with the ability to fight back, potentially disable a very difficult situation versus having nothing or having a stapler to throw.”

The product comes in a small can with a spray trigger and safety on top, similar to a bear spray cannister.

Reflex Protect is not a pepper spray, though, but rather uses a “Presidia Gel” formula that Drown likened to tear gas, which is commonly used by police to subdue rioters.

The spray would deliver “rapid onset temporary blindness and intense pain, debilitating the attacker until help arrives,” according to the company’s website.

Once administered, a neutralizing chemical would be given to the attacker to stabilize them after the arrival of emergency services.

Reflex Protect was developed by Steve Mangold and Joe Anderson, both Montanans, as a nonlethal defense for schools and hospitals.

Drown said currently the product is being used in Polson by select teachers that showed interest.

While the QRT is not pushing for having or not-having the product in Whitefish Schools, Drown said it seemed worth having the conversation.

“[We] decided it was something we wanted to bring to the board saying we wanted to have a further dialogue,” he said.

Trustee Ruth Harrison asked Drown about safe storage of the product.

“Do they make any recommendations as to how you store that so it is readily accessible to the appropriate people and yet not accessible to a teenager that wants to try it out?” she asked.

Drown said the question is one of the first brought up by Reflex Protect during the demonstration. The company suggests storing the can in high places for elementary schools, and for middle and high school teachers they offer a desk holder that sounds an alarm once it’s removed.

While it’s good to look at different defense options and feel in control, Trustee Katie Clarke noted the bittersweet nature of such a conversation.

“It’s horrible to have these kinds of conversations, but it’s nice to feel like we can be a little bit in the driver’s seat in terms of having options,” she said.

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