While many school districts train students and staff to initiate a “lockdown” when someone with a gun enters the school — locking students inside their classroom while waiting for police to respond — some school districts are changing tactics.
Superintendent Dan Peterson said his DeWitt, Iowa-based Central Community Schools district is adopting a new type of plan that gives staff and students options such as barricading doors, fleeing the school when possible and, if directly confronted by a shooter, distracting or subduing the shooter, to maximize their chances of survival.
While students are not being told they should confront a shooter or put themselves in danger, Peterson said staff and students should be made aware that there are things they can do to help themselves and others escape alive.
“I think people appreciate that they have more options than just lying down in the classroom,” Peterson said Monday.
A letter was sent to parents of Central Community students last week explaining the program, and the district will hold public information meetings for parents next week.
Last spring, Peterson, along with representatives of several local law enforcement agencies and other school districts, attended a training session in East Moline on the ALICE violent intruder response plan.
ALICE, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Information, Counter and Escape, was developed by Greg Crane, a former Dallas-Fort Worth-area police officer, and his wife, Lisa, a former school teacher and principal.
Normal-based McLean County Unit 5 school district, where a 14-year-old freshman is accused of firing shots into a ceiling Friday at Normal Community High School, does not use the ALICE plan, a district spokeswoman said Monday.
Greg Crane said the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, where two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher and wounded 21, prompted law enforcement officials to begin to rethink how such incidents are handled.
After speaking with his wife about how schools were teaching students to lock their doors, hide in classrooms and wait for police to show up in the event of a shooting at school, Crane said he realized that approach “just defies all common sense.”
He became more convinced after the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech University, where a student killed 32 people and wounded 17 others, stopping more than once to reload.
Crane said several people who could have escaped didn’t because they had been trained to sit still and wait for police.
“That just should not have happened,” he said. “It happened because, unfortunately, (the shooter’s) job became just too easy.”
Crane said the ALICE program teaches students and staff members that while staying put in the classroom is an option, there are other options, too. The training includes helping students recognize items in the classroom they could use to barricade the door, making it more difficult for an intruder to enter, and ways to escape from the room and the school.
The program also includes using the school intercom to inform staff and students about the intruder’s location to help them formulate a plan to escape.
“Time and distance are your friends,” said DeWitt Police Chief Dave Porter, whose department is partnering with the school district to implement the program. “If you can create time and distance between yourself and the gunman, your survival chances go up.”
Students and staff also are told that if a gunman enters the room they are in, they can distract him by throwing books and other classroom objects. Porter said anything students can do to decrease the gunman’s shooting accuracy or frustrate him into leaving improves their chances of survival.
Peterson said he went into the ALICE training willing to consider the program, and left firmly convinced it was the right thing to do.
“There was just this overwhelming sense that it makes sense,” he said.
School resource officer Shawn Zeimet will speak to classrooms in the district to implement the plan on a grade-appropriate basis, Peterson said.
Andrea Vinson of DeWitt said she was startled to receive the letter about the ALICE program last week. She said while she wasn’t sure if her daughters, Ashley, a ninth-grader, and Maddie, a fifth-grader, would confront an intruder in their school, she agreed there might be better options than sitting still and waiting.
“I would prefer that my children get out of the building and away from danger,” she said.
Bettendorf Superintendent Theron Schutte said some of his district’s administrators have been trained in the program, but students have not been due to concerns about training students to physically confront an intruder. He said discussions with the school community would have to take place before a decision was made to implement that part of the training.
“We’re in the investigation mode,” he said.
Bettendorf Police Chief Phil Redington said he believes staff and students should be trained in all areas of the program. He said while students should not be told they must confront an intruder, they should be made aware that there are options other than hiding in a classroom.
Redington said while that may be the best option in some circumstances, it may be a mistake in others.
“If you only tell students to do one thing, to sit and wait, that’s what they’re going to do,” he said.