James Haan with an open first aid kit, showing its contents.
USD 259 was one of the school districts that received Stop the Bleed kits from the Wichita Metro Crime Commission. Dr. James Haan helped explain the contents of the kits. (Trace Salzbrenner/The Wichita Beacon)

The Wichita Metro Crime Commission in September presented 11 area schools with Stop the Bleed first aid kits — small red bags filled with emergency medical supplies used to treat deep wounds.

Although the kits are not new to area schools, their appearance is one sign of escalating concerns about student safety and conduct. With Nov. 7 school board elections coming up, candidates and others are calling for more focus on countering disruptive and aggressive behavior in schools.

“I don’t want you to think for a second that guns aren’t a problem,” Mike Harris, vice president of the United Teachers of Wichita, the local teachers union, said in an interview with The Beacon. 

However, the kits are not the primary form of support he is hoping for. 

“The biggest problem in our schools right now is actually student behavior and how we respond to it,” he said. 

Wichita Public Schools has been receiving Stop the Bleed kits and training since 2017. The nationwide program is operated by the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma. It was begun partly in response to the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

“What was found was more lives could be saved if they have medical supplies with staff,” Norris Slupianek, president of the Wichita Metro Crime Commission, said during a news conference.

The kits handed out to school officials consist of gauze, tourniquets, disinfecting wipes and a marker to make note of when the contents were used. Terri Moses, Wichita Public Schools division director of safety and environmental services, collected the supplies to add to the stockpile already building at USD 259. None of the kits has been used to this point, Moses said. 

So far this year, two students and one parent have been caught bringing firearms onto school property. And just over a year ago, three students were injured in a shooting near Wichita East High School. The shooting was close enough for bullets to ricochet off of the school walls. 

Student safety and student behavior in Wichita

Every educator worries about guns, Harris said. But he would like to see more money and attention directed at aggressive and disruptive conduct exhibited by students because that is a much more common and widespread issue he is hearing about from teachers. 

“I know teachers that now take the long way back to their classrooms because they want to avoid the hallways where fights happen,” Harris said. 

In late August of this year, a school administrator at West High suffered a concussion while trying to break up a fight. After the fight, students did not leave the scene. Security officers used pepper spray to restore order.

Moses, the school district’s safety director, also said that the holistic safety of students inside buildings was the leading concern at the moment. But schools need to be prepared for the possibility of a shooting, she said.

The next steps in addressing student behavior 

Harris said teachers want the district’s leaders to spend more time addressing issues such as fights and interruptions to learning.

For instance, he said: “We have questions and concerns about the use of chemical dispersant pepper spray. I think this is one of the biggest decisions that will need to be made during school board elections. How do we respond?” 

Multiple school board candidates have been running on how they will address student behavior if they are elected to a seat on USD 259’s school board.

Brent Davis’ campaign website states that students who present a problem should be “immediately and properly attended to.” In a questionnaire from The Wichita Beacon, Stan Reeser said the district needs to better understand the root causes of the behavior. More candidates have other ideas. 

Although the issues are complex, teachers broadly fall into two camps, Harris said. Some champion restorative practices — helping students learn and take responsibility. Others favor more disciplinary action. Harris did not say which he supports. 

Are the Stop the Bleed kits needed?

Though shootings are not their immediate concern, Harris and Moses agree that ultimately the emergency medical kits are good to have on hand. 

Since 2017, more than 4,000 students and staff have been trained through Wesley Medical Center to use the kits, Moses said.

Dr. James Haan, a critical care surgeon with Ascension Via Christi, said the kits are helpful for more than gunshot wounds. They can also be used to treat broken bones, deep cuts or any injury that has caused severe bleeding.  

“I want to see them in airports, factories,” Haan said. “I want them to be as common as automatic defibrillators.” 

While he likes having the kits in schools, Harris said they aren’t the fix that’s needed at the moment. 

“The biggest problem in our schools is not guns,” Harris said. “It’s student behavior, and metal detectors and tourniquets are not going to correct it.”

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Trace Salzbrenner is a community journalist for The Wichita Beacon. Follow him on Twitter @RealTraceAlan.