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Teachers take steps to prepare for potential intruders

Posted Date: 10/09/2017

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Teachers take steps to prepare for potential intruders

The statistics compiled following mass killings in schools and other public places in the United States reveal these trends.

  • The killer is almost always a man

  • A gun is the usual weapon

  • The killer intends to kill as many people as possible in a short amount of time

  • The killer does not expect to leave the location alive

These facts substantiate the reasons why ALICE, a new system of response to intruders, was developed and is being implemented in schools and other public buildings across the country. In Chanute Public Schools, administrators talked with teachers and staff about the rationale for using ALICE and then followed it up with practice sessions at each of the school buildings.

“It’s a matter of retraining the brain to think differently about someone who enters a school with a weapon intending to cause bodily harm,” Assistant Superintendent Kent Wire told staff at a district meeting. “They are not an intruder, they are a killer and that’s what they will be called when the alarm is sounded inside a school building.”

Teachers were introduced to the ALICE method of response several years ago. This fall, administrators reiterated the concepts and talked with staff about developing building and classroom plans in response to an intruder intending to do bodily harm.

For years, the rule of thumb was to “lockdown,” lock the classrooms and tell students to hide under their desks.

“We haven’t practiced a lot of common sense to dealing with a killer in the building,” Wire said. “There is more we can do other than hide.”

Natural responses are flight, freeze or fight. By practicing with staff, the intent is to retrain the brain to take flight or fight, and not to freeze, he said.

Chanute Elementary Principal Matt Koester said he was one of the biggest opponents to ALICE when the district first talked about it.

“I have 850 kids in my building and (you want me) telling them to run?” he thought.

After hearing the statistics compiled from each successive school shooting, he thinks differently.

“We’ve got to find a way to take control of these things,” Koester said. In many cases the killing is over by the time police arrive. In a 2014 drill in Neosho County, it took six minutes for local law enforcement to arrive to the targeted building in Chanute.

“In the six minutes it takes police to get there most of the damage is done,” Superintendent Richard Proffitt said. This training is what “we’re going to do to keep our students and staff members safe until the police get there.”

Certain expectations come with being a district employee.

“First and foremost, our responsibility is the safety of these kids,” Proffitt said. “My first expectation is that you are going to be a leader. That’s not freezing. It’s remaining calm and training the brain so you can think in these situations.”

If staff members hear gunshots or are alerted to initiate ALICE, their options are barricading through enhanced lockdown measures, evacuating the building or preparing a counter attack. That decision depends on the circumstances at the time and “the best information you have at the time,” Wire said. “It means being proactive,” he continued. “Look around. What would you do? How would you get the kids out? What could you use to secure the door or block the window?”

“When it comes time to practicing with students, parents will be informed,” Superintendent Proffitt said.

The kind of practice will vary among the buildings and the ages of students.

“The first step to preparing is teaching students to follow your directions. You’re really practicing ALICE training every time you get them to do what you say,” Wire said.

At Chanute Elementary, teachers are preparing to share some information with their students.

“It would be negligent to not use the information we have,” Koester said, and “not have our students prepared with options.”

The amount of information shared depends on the students’ age.

“Any drills we do for ALICE will be age appropriate,” Koester said. “We will not run to rally points. We will never create a situation that will be frightening or scary to the kids, but we know the responsibility we have is to prepare students and staff for this unlikely event, but one that can happen.”

If there is a fire, students evacuate the building. In the case of an intruder, evacuation is one option.

“Because we practice fire drills so often, even those in the lower grades know where they are to go,” Koester said. In preparing the elementary students for ALICE, the students will know where they are to evacuate the building. The teachers will have a plan and a backup plan.

“I think the biggest overall key to ALICE is we are going to give people options, based on the information they have, to keep people safe the best they know how to,” Koester said.

These preparations will also help the school in the case of other emergencies.

“ALICE doesn’t only prepare us for terrible situations, but having these protocols and procedures in place prepares us for other more likely events … for a chemical spill or natural disaster … “for any reason we might have to evacuate the building and where we wouldn’t be able to come back into the building,” Koester said.

Story by: Connie Woodard