District to train students to counter active shooter

In this file photo, a member of law enforcement responds to the Excel Shooting, Feb., 15 2016. The Newton School District has used lessons learned during the shooting at at other events to help come up with methods of dealing with an active shooter in a school.

If local students and teachers face a school shooter, they will look to ALICE training to save their lives.

This week, a gunman pulled a fire alarm at a Florida school, hid in a crowd of children exiting the building and opened fire, killing 17.

School shootings have been a regular occurrence in the country the last few years.

But this week’s death toll, the largest since the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting that killed 26, has local parents concerned and asking the question: “How would the Newton School District handle such an event?”

USD 373 Superintendent Deb Hamm explained that the district has used lessons during the past few years, especially following the Excel Shooting, to create a plan to best keep students safe.

That means the district will no longer implement the “lockdown” or shelter in place strategy that long served as a dominant means of dealing with an active killer in a school.
“We were continually told from law enforcement to look at this practice because it’s not best practice,” she said. Critics of such a method argue that it is passive and makes students sitting ducks.
After continued meetings with law enforcement, as well as Harvey County Emergency Management, the district decided to adopt the ALICE model.

That stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate.

“Excel happened,” Hamm said. “That broadened the conversation. Through that conversation, we were able to get three members of our staff trained in the model to be district trainers.”

Since then, the trainers have trained between 80 and 90 percent of district staff, according to estimates made at a recent school board meeting. Staff will soon begin training students in the method.
“This spring, we hope to finish with everybody, and we’ll have an ongoing set of refreshers,” she said.
During an emergency, law enforcement will be notified and information will be distributed to staff.

“We’d be able to say we have a situation located in this part of the building,” Hamm said. “Our staff would provide instruction to students based on where they are in the building where the shooting is located.”

Staff will work to with students to escape the building.

However, if there are no safe escape routes available, students and staff will go into a lockdown and start looking for ways to counter a shooter. Such ways include throwing items and actively distracting a shooter to allow others to escape or the shooter to be subdued.

“If you are in a room because the shooter is in a general area, the adults or even kids – fifth grade kids – can throw stuff, as well as adults,” she said. “The plan is to make sure you can do something.”

Hamm said the district plans to have the students trained so they can understand staff’s direction and they are able to properly react to an active shooting situation if it happens.

The training will be based on the students’ grade level and not so detailed or complex to give an active shooter an advantage if they have sat through the training.
“It’s going to be instruction based on the age and developmental levels,” Hamm said, “The overarching goal is to keep as many people safe as possible and to provide options for adults on how to work with the event.”

Hamm said the district hopes to finish the training this spring. She also said the district plans to hold informative meetings before spring break with parents to help them understand and teach the strategy.

“If I’m the parent of a young student, I might have different concerns based on what my child would do,” she said.