On Monday, October 24, the Hayward Community School District participated in the A.L.I.C.E. safety response protocol which is an approach that empowers staff and students to make informed decisions to keep them safe in an active shooter situation.
Several primary school parents expressed concern over the third step which instructs children to fight back. The first step is to run or evacuate the building if possible through a door or window. If that’s not possible, the second step instructs them to hide.
A concerned parent said her first-grade student came home Monday and said they had a drill for if someone comes into the school but didn’t specify what kind of person. The parent said she didn’t think her 6-year-old should try to fight back.
“I just don't think someone who is six is mentally able to make life and death decisions. Like fight back,” The concerned parent said. “I asked her when you said fight what did that mean and she said throw things, toys, her chair, and said she wasn't able to lift her chair. I just don't know what they are saying to kids and what the kid’s interpretation of that is.”
Hayward Primary School Principal Wade Reier said they taper down the training with the Primary School students. He said they use more sensitive words, for instance, ‘angry adult’ or ‘a bad guy’ instead of ‘shooter.’
Reier said in previous years the school had a one-step lockdown drill, but over time research has shown that with the three-step approach there is a better chance of less people being harmed.
In response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, there has been an ongoing debate about how to protect school children. Some controversial tactics have been taken. In South Dakota, a law was passed to allow teachers to carry firearms in the classroom.
A high school in suburban Chicago held a drill in which police fired blanks in the halls in order to give staff and students “some familiarity with the sound of gunfire.”
Recently, an Ohio school board approved plans to arm the janitors.
These kinds of measures have had negative reactions, but none so much as the controversial approach instructing children to fight back.
“I find this kind of disturbing they want our kids to go after a person with a gun by throwing things,” The concerned parent said. “I don't think they should be having our 6-year-olds be the hero. I would expect this out of an adult”
The US Department of Homeland Security recommends hiding or fleeing if possible when faced with the threat of a gunman, and fighting back only as a last resort. This approach is exactly what Reier said they are teaching in the Hayward School District.
The school used a more passive approach teaching staff and students to lock their classrooms, turn off the lights and evacuate when possible, through a door or window.
“Our current lockdown technique now provides two more options,” Reier said. “If an intruder enters the building we now go over the PA system and announce a specific location. For example, if the intruder comes in the doors by the office, we’ll announce intruder by the office and then depending on the classroom location, they will act. The office is closer to the first-grade wing, so they may have to lock doors and hide, but the kindergarten wing is far away so they can exit and just get safe. Just get as far away as possible and we can find you after but we don’t want them to be in that room.”
Reier said when the teachers lock doors and hide in the drill, they will spend five or ten minutes talking with the kids about the situation and answer questions.
As a last resort, Reier said, the fight technique would be used. He said it’s uncomfortable but it will increase chances of survival.
“At the kindergarten and first-grade level they would be taught to throw things like pencils, toys, a math book or whatever, in order to distract them,” Reier said. “Anything we can do to get the shooter to aim the gun anywhere else but at the children improves their chance of not getting harmed.”
Reier explained that this would be a situation if the intruder were to kick down the door and enter the classroom.
“It’s not something we want to do but it is a last option,” Reier said. “We don’t teach them to throw punches or anything like that. It’s meant to be a distraction.”
Reier said the drill for the primary school is tapered way down compared to the drill for the high school. He said each school is tapered down a level depending on the age of the students.
In a discussion on Facebook, one parent said, “There's a ton of studies on it. The more chaos the kids create, the less chances there are for fatalities. All current training I've taken has fight back as the 3rd option as well, it significantly increases the chances of survival. If they cannot hide or escape, the theory is that they can throw things and create that type of chaos. It, in theory, distracts the shooter making it more difficult for them to take aim if the kids are not all grouped in a corner hiding. I see both sides, and it's super unfortunate that we even have a need to have shooter drills conducted!”
The training program is called A.L.I.C.E. It stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate and it was created by a former SWAT officer and schoolteacher, Greg Crane. He calls them "common sense" strategies for contending with school shootings. For example, students aware of an intruder in the building can build barricades against their classroom doors by stacking chairs and desks.
A.L.i.C.E. training recommends rearranging classroom layouts to create a "minefield" that would make movement more difficult for an assailant once inside. It also instructs students about how to go toe-to-toe with a shooter if it becomes necessary. First students should gain a "tactical advantage” by throwing books, backpacks, desks, or anything they can get their hands on, to disrupt the gunman.
The idea in the training is that as the gunman is busy ducking his head from an air assault, if a small number of the students could become attackers instead of the attacked, they can begin a ground assault.
Critics say A.L.i.C.E presents safety and liability risks for students and schools and that it’s reckless and unrealistic to expect students, especially young ones, to go after a gunman.
Dr. Stephen Brock of the National Association of School Psychologists says teaching such tactics may cause unnecessary anxiety and stress for students, particularly young ones who are more easily traumatized. "It strikes me as an overreaction and potentially dangerous," Brock says. "School shootings are extremely rare. The odds of a student becoming a victim are 1 in 2.5 million. The odds of getting struck by lightning? One in 700,000."
"A.L.i.C.E may be well intended, but it's not well thought-out," says Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services. "You can't get a group of middle-school kids to simultaneously agree on chicken nuggets or pizza in the cafeteria for lunch, much less make a split-second decision to start throwing items at an armed intruder."
Crane said after the Newtown massacre he received over 2,000 emails about his A.L.I.C.E. training program and the emails have not let up. He said his program has trained hundreds of schools and millions of students.
Reier is in his first year as the assistant principal overseeing the primary school. He served for five years as middle school assistant principal. He is also the school district safety coordinator.
He said in the past the lockdown drills have been done once-per-year but he compared it to fire drills. “There is a fire drill in the school every month and there’s never been a death in a school due to a fire, because they train so often. So, we decided to step up the A.L.I.C.E. training to once-a-quarter instead of once-a-year.” There will be four of these lockdown drills in the school district.
Reier said last year the staff went through the A.L.I.C.E training protocol. He said the city and county each have resource officers and they trained three staff first. The five of them trained the entire staff during a teacher in-service day.
The Hayward School District Superintendent, Craig Olson, sent a letter home to parents stating the program is meant to keep kids safe.
“Please be assured we would never teach or ask our students to confront an armed intruder. We will never conduct unsafe or surprise training or drills with students of any age. We will, however, provide students with the knowledge that if faced with a critical situation, there are methods that can be applied that greatly enhance their chances of not being harmed,” Olson wrote. “Our traditional approach of ‘lockdown’ in case of an active shooter or threat against the school will remain a viable option, especially for students in lower grades.”
Reier explained in the tapering down of the training at the primary school that during the drill, all three grades, K-2nd, were only taught the hide approach this time. He said in the future trainings they may have second graders practice the escape technique.
One parent said on Facebook, “This is sad this has to be taught. What would he really nice is if the government could find funding to hire retired vets to help protect our schools and have trainings to help teachers. Heck, we should allow teachers concealed and carry if they so wish. I don't have a kid in school, but we teach children that police officers and teachers are good people and they can go to them, why not let them carry in case a god awful situation happens!”
A Sawyer County Sheriff’s deputy said, “I would hope if someone noticed a person with a weapon 911 would be called asap and we would get there before anyone had to "fight" back! Whether we are on or off duty, you better believe every officer would be at that school and we would have a plan! And even though a lot of people have negative to say about the Sheriff's Department, we have a good SWAT team and also work with Washburn County's team and would make sure every one of those kids stays safe and gets out!”
“Really shows how times are changing. This is absolutely blowing my mind right now,” one parent said.
Another added, “Such a crazy world anymore. I'm glad the teachers are teaching and addressing what to do, but it's sad the kids even have to think about things like that.”
Olson added in his letter to parents, “As part of the ongoing goal to provide the safest school environment for our children, the Hayward Schools have completed projects to upgrade our security in each building by adding an extra set of locking doors at each entrance, training the staff on A.L.I.C.E. protocol, continually upgrading the security camera systems and always working to build relationships with the students and their parents.”
A member of the Parent Advisory Committee (PAC), Layla Beckermann, said they have meetings every 2nd Tuesday of the month at 2:00pm in the primary school conference room for primary school parents.
Beckermann said Reier is at all of the meetings and, “It is often helpful as a parent to have a relationship with staff and an understanding of why they do the things they do. They do have our kid’s safety and best interest in mind. Please come to those meetings and/or meet with Wade Reier to gain an understanding of procedure if you are concerned.”
“It is a scary world and we need to be aware,” Reier said. “Be assured, the teacher is going to lead the charge in the whole thing if ever a situation occurred.”
Reier said any concerned parents should call him or Mr. Olson at the schools.
“Talk to us and communicate, let us know what we can do better.”