SHERIDAN — The horrific school shooting that killed 17 people last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, raised all sorts of questions, including what procedure students and teachers should follow in the case of an active shooter.
Some Stoneman Douglas students evacuated the school after a fire alarm went off, but when a “code red” was announced over the school intercom, many of them returned to the building to hide in classrooms, per the school’s protocol.
That protocol differs from local school districts, who all adhere to ALICE training in coordination with local law enforcement. ALICE stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate.
It is not the order to proceed in the case of an active shooter, but rather provides five main options to consider.
Sheridan County School District 2 assistant superintendent Scott Stults attended ALICE training last February with a critical eye but quickly realized the district’s lockdown procedure wasn’t good enough.
Stults said the lockdown drill is a passive approach and didn’t adequately address how to respond if an armed person is inside the building.Thus, SCSD2 implemented ALICE last fall.
The alert portion goes hand-in-hand with inform. An ALICE procedure could be called in by a faculty member who sees someone dangerous approaching the building. If a shooter is already in the building, the alert could come from the intercom system giving the specific location of the shooter, so people away from that area can evacuate.
If the shooter is in the area, students and teachers initiate lockdown, meaning they lock and barricade doors and get out of the line of sight. The counter portion occurs if the shooter breaks the barricade. Students could grab onto the shooter or throw various classroom items.
“If [teachers and students] are armed with staplers, books, Chromebooks, pencils, anything that they can throw at the killer when the door is breached, they’re going to do that,” Stults said. “They’re not going to sit and wait and just huddle in a corner.”
The procedures are taught a little differently to students depending on their ages. Teachers use different language when explaining an active shooter scenario to elementary students versus high school students. The counter portion of ALICE is also not explicitly taught to elementary school students.
It is a deeply unfortunate reality that planning for a school shooter is part of an educator’s job.
“It’s horrific to think that we have to train kids and teachers how to protect themselves from somebody to come into the school and kill them,” Stults said.
Sheridan County School District 1 implemented ALICE training about four years ago. SCSD1 superintendent Marty Kobza said every school practices it at least twice per year.
Kobza said the multi-faceted approach provides more options and choices and could also help students if they are in a non-school location and an active shooter situation arises.
The district has areas with bulletproof film on glass and recently implemented ways to reinforce doors and entryways. SCSD1 also distributed stay kits with food, water and first aid items to classrooms over winter break.
Preventive measures are extremely important as well and are mainly handled by school resource officers. SROs work for the Sheriff’s Department but spend most of their time in schools building relationships with students.
“So that if [students] see something on social media or have some kind of feeling about somebody, they’re willing to share it with the adults in the school,” Kobza said.
Once something is reported to the SRO, it is directly reported to local law enforcement and investigated.
“Everybody has their opinions about solutions and everything else,” Kobza said. “I can tell you school resource officers in schools are a tremendous asset.”
Sheridan County School District 3 has also been using ALICE for a few years. SCSD3 superintendent Charles Auzqui said the district practices emergency drills — fire, lockdown, tornado and evacuation — once per month
New safety measures are coming to most local schools in the future.
SCSD3 wants to change the locks on internal school doors so they are able to lock from both sides. That way, a teacher can lock a door from the classroom instead of stepping out into the hall to lock the door. Other potential changes include updated camera systems, a secondary lock system and quicker exit strategies, like safely breaking a window.
SCSD1 is in the process of purchasing a raptor management system to have more control over who enters and exits school buildings. Instead of simply writing a name on a sticker, a visitor will have his or her ID swiped before entering. The system then prints out a badge with the visitor’s photo and destination.
The management system also can send out an alert to faculty and staff cellphones if a potentially dangerous situation arises. It also has a reunification process if students have to be evacuated from their school building.
Kobza hopes the system will be implemented before the end of this school year so the district can figure out any issues and have it fully ready to go by the fall.
SCSD2 is finalizing a $50,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security to install interior security cameras.
SCSD2 facilities director Mathers Heuck said the cameras will be installed in long hallways at Sheridan High School and replace older cameras in the Sheridan Junior High School Early Building. Heuck hopes to have the installation process out for bid in the coming months and the cameras installed over the summer before school begins in the fall.
With all of these safety measures, a delicate balance exists between protecting a school and still making it a normal environment.
“We do everything that we can,” Auzqui said. “We don’t want our school to look like a prison or Fort Knox to get into. We’re still an educational environment.”
No amount of training can completely prevent a school shooting, but newer procedures are being implemented with hopes of lessening the likelihood of a potential tragedy.