Tonganoxie Tiffany Parker had been pitching an idea to others in the Tonganoxie school district that might help protect students in the event of an active shooter.
A few days later, the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which killed 17, shook the nation.
Since then, the Tonganoxie Elementary School kindergarten teacher has been spreading the word about what she’s dubbed the Safety Sleeve.
“I wish I knew where to give credit,” Parker said. “I think I’ve seen an apparatus similar to it, but I don’t know when or where.”
The sleeves, anywhere from 4 to 6 inches in length, slide over the hinge near the top of classroom doors. When placed over the hinge, the door can’t be opened from the outside.
Parker, who for years also was the Tonganoxie High School volleyball coach, used some retired fire hoses that the team had used as zone markers during drills when she coached.
THS assistant coach Stephanie Wittman’s father, Jim, a retired Salina firefighter, donated the old hoses to the volleyball team.
“Since I’m no longer coaching, I didn’t need them anymore,” Parker said about the hoses. “It just all came together.”
She also found an opportune time in front of the television to cut the hoses into numerous sleeves.
“I simply cut it during KU basketball games,” Parker said with a laugh. “It was rather therapeutic for all the close games they had this year.”
Parker showed the sleeves to some Tonganoxie school board members and another person who is active in the Eudora school district.
“They’re trying to get the ball rolling in their district, as well,” Parker said.
Her efforts were accelerated when the shooting occurred in Florida.
“I woke up the next morning and woke up to the news,” Parker said. “My heart sank knowing that could be us at any point.”
“Ty Poell (TES principal) was on board immediately and basically said, ‘Get it out.’”
The sleeves have been distributed throughout Tonganoxie elementary and middle schools, with the high school expected to be next.
Parker is working with the Tonganoxie City Fire Department to see whether retired hoses might be available.
The kindergarten teacher created postcards with a QR code that links to an instructional video she made on how to use the sleeves. She said they’re being implemented already in districts in both Illinois and Nebraska. Up the road, the Basehor-Linwood school district also is showing interest.
“The Safety Sleeve is not a Tonganoxie school district-only kind of thing,” Parker said. “If it’s going to protect kids somewhere else, spread the word. It’s as simple as a donation from your fire department.”
Parker was slated to give a presentation at Tonganoxie’s next school board meeting.
Like Poell and other administrators, interim superintendent Tonya Phillips supports Parker’s creation. The district is also looking at other safety measures.
“Our top priority at Tonganoxie USD 464 is safety,” Phillips said. “We are currently in the process of evaluating each of our buildings for safety. Involving our first responders in our safety and security plans and acquiring additional training are things we are currently working on.
“We have identified some areas of concern at Tonganoxie High School and are working to address the most immediate needs, including ensuring all outside doors are locked and adding a ‘buzz in’ system at the front doors.”
Phillips said the district also is evaluating safety needs that would require more funding.
Tonganoxie school board president Amelia Brusven was one of the members Parker approached about the repurposed hoses.
“I think, as a district, we understand how the events such as the one in Parkland significantly affect our schools, educators and students,” Brusven said. “Without question, the safety of students and staff is our No. 1 priority.
“We are pleased to see one of our educators is taking a positive initiative to help make our classrooms safer.”
Parker said some folks have told her to patent the sleeves, but she wasn’t interested.
“That’s not what this is about,” she said. “This is about enabling teachers to protect their kids to the best of their ability and giving them another viable option to protect their kids.
“And I pray we never have to use this.”