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The Suburbanite
  • Training program encourages students, teachers to take proactive approach against school shooters

  • Teachers and administrators took on the roll of students during A.L.I.C.E. training at Springfield High School.

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  • Teachers and administrators took on the roll of students during A.L.I.C.E. training at Springfield High School on Feb. 15.
    A.L.I.C.E. (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training is a program that takes a proactive approach to protecting students, using realistic scenarios to train teachers how to react to threats.
    “We need to be proactive when it comes to the safety of our kids,” said Eric East, Springfield Police sergeant and SWAT team member. “I don’t think there is a teacher in this room that is not going to risk everything for their kids. I really don’t. You wouldn’t be teaching. You care for your kids. Look at the teachers at Sandy Hook (in Newtown, Conn.), they took it for those kids.”
    After a session of book training, staff members went into a classroom to put the techniques they learned into action. One staff member became the teacher in the scenario and the others were students. East acted as the shooter.
    “Those are gunshots!” the “teacher” yelled.
    “Students” went into action stacking desks high in front of the classroom door. A piece of rope was thrown from the back of the room to a student by the door. She tied it to the doorknob and held it tight. East could not get into the room. Once he gave the group instructions to let him open the door, he entered the room pointing a mock gun as students threw items at him to keep him out. The response was quick, and everyone participated in barricading, throwing items and helping to protect each other.
    “The shooter is not going to waste time getting in that door,” school resource officer Jim McKnight told staff members. “They are going to move on.”
    He said there is a need to move beyond just a lockdown to protect children. The program offers options to enhance the chances of surviving a potentially violent encounter with someone with a gun.
    “What we are trying to do is give these teachers new tools on how to deal with the situation of having an active shooter in the school. Right now, under the current plans, we are teaching people how to become victims,” East said, referring to the current policy of lockdown after an alert is issued. “Now we are moving into what to do if they are actually confronted with a gun. Do we teach them to sit in the corner and become victims, or do we teach them how to counter a shooter in the school and how to defend their lives and the lives of their students?”
    Police officers are learning to respond differently as well, training for solo entry instead of waiting for a SWAT team to arrive on the scene.
    Page 2 of 3 - East compared it to the Columbine High School shooting on April 20, 1999.
    “They waited for the SWAT team. It is a different way of thinking now, we have learned from incidents,” he said. “Jim knows to go to that shooter. Whether the guy surrenders when he sees Jim, takes his own life or Jim has to do what every cop does not want to do (shoot the suspect)...”
    McKnight is on duty at the school every day and said officers take an oath not to wait for the SWAT team.
    High school principal Cynthia Frola said she thought the training makes a lot of sense.
    “The normal thing is you lock in and stay put,” she said. “One of the things I really like about it is, we get away from just sitting and waiting. We give the kids roles in protecting themselves.”
    Frola said she has told students to throw everything they can, including laptops, iPads and books.
    “It is all about disrupting the shooter and his plan, taking chaos and mayhem and turning it into an advantage. Creating things he did not plan to see or hear,” McKnight said. “We want the students and teachers to know that they can do something.”
    Angie Minear, special education teaching assistant at Spring Hill Junior High, was a little hesitant about the training, but said she feels good about it now.
    “Ever since Sandy Hook, it has been frightening to even go to school. This is a very empowering technique,” she said. “I feel like I have something that I could do now other than herding the kids in the corner and telling them to be quiet, which is what we do. I think it is a great philosophy for the kids to throw things and yell. That shooter is not expecting that. It makes you feel a little safer.”
    Frola said the A.L.I.C.E. technique uses the classroom full of minds to make decisions instead of waiting on the principal for instructions.
    “The more people thinking about a problem, the more options we come up with,” she said. “The caveat to that will be that we do our work and front load it. We plan to practice some scenarios here rather than just a lockdown drill. It makes sense to me.”
    McKnight and East will be working with students in the future.
    School nurses Mary Gabrenya and Jackie Tolbert were also on hand for the training.
    “I was not sure at first about doing this,” Gabrenya said. “I am glad I did it. I think everybody feels empowered.”
    Tolbert had been concerned about safety because she is in a room with a lot of glass.
    “If someone came in, we could only get down. I knew there had to be a better thing we could do,” she said.
    Page 3 of 3 - Now she knows to pile everything they can find in front of the glass windows.
    “We have a window in the back of the room, and we can get kids out that window. That training was marvelous. It was well worth it and every school should have it.”
    McKnight said the presence of an officer at a school can deter someone from entering for the wrong reasons. A shooter is most likely not going to come into a school where there is a police car parked out front.
    “They are going to the place with the least resistance,” he said.
    Although he does many jobs at the school, including settling conflicts, counseling students and crime prevention, McKnight said his main job is safety. He is vigilant in making sure doors are locked and students are not opening doors for people to come into the building.
    “The main purpose of A.L.I.C.E is to save lives and hopefully it can help do that if it ever happens,” East said. “God, I pray that never happens, but ... it can happen anywhere.”