Schools consider involving students in lockdown defense against intruders

An emergency protocol that instructs students to distract and confront violent intruders likely will go into effect in Western Springs District 101 next school year, school officials say. Other area districts also are considering the plan, which more than 1 million students follow in schools around the country.

A.L.i.C.E. – alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate – departs from standard lockdown procedures that have students hide in a secured room. Created by former police officer Greg Crane of Response Options, a security training firm that consults schools, the plan allows teachers to change their response based on the situation. For example, a teacher whose room is on the opposite end of the school from an armed intruder could decide to evacuate students. If a shooter makes it into a room, the plan suggests that teachers and students distract the shooter by throwing objects like books or chairs.

District 101 Superintendent Brian Barnhart said he anticipates that his district will adopt many elements of the program for next school year. Certified police officers and administrators will train teachers in the program. Students will not have to perform drills for distracting a pseudo-gunman, Barnhart said.

Western Springs police are on board with the program and are encouraging schools to adopt it, Deputy Chief Brian Budds said.

“Ninety percent of the school will probably be able to run away from the shooter using the A.L.i.C.E. concept,” Budds said.

Barnhart said he anticipates disagreement over the district’s adoption of A.L.i.C.E.

“But do I have bigger concerns about students as sitting ducks?” he asked. “Yes, I do.”

Experts question program

School security consultant Kenneth Trump, who in April presented to more than a dozen local school districts and police departments in La Grange Park and does not favor an A.L.i.C.E. response, said the program was designed by “well intended people who know nothing about schools.”

Not all area school districts feel comfortable about implementing A.L.i.C.E. either.

“It seemed like there was somewhat of a commitment to A.L.i.C.E. we weren’t sure we were comfortable with,” said Lauri Calabrese, assistant superintendent for finance for La Grange District 102.

District 102 hired a consultant, Lemont-based RETA Security, Inc., to evaluate all facets of its security plan and will receive a report this summer. RETA President Paul Timm, also a former member of the Illinois Terrorism Task Force, said A.L.i.C.E. enhances lockdown procedures by giving teachers options, but he has concerns about the components that ask K-12 students to distract or confront a shooter.

La Grange Park’s police chief was also concerned about the more aggressive components of A.L.i.C.E.

“Encouraging students to confront armed attackers is a recipe for disaster,” said La Grange Park Police Chief Dan McCollum, whose department partnered with Brookfield District 95 to pay for Trump’s presentation. “The thought of a first-grader throwing a stapler at someone with a handgun to me is, to say the least, troubling.”

Program used in 330 schools nationwide

Marianne Alvarez, director of training for Response Options, was police captain at San Jose State University before joining the firm, which will be changing its name to A.L.i.C.E. Training Institute.

Alvarez said the company’s staff always have been busy, but not like since the fatal shooting of 20 students and six teachers in December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

“After that unfortunate event, we became incredibly busy,” she said. “And it has not slowed down.”

Several full-time instructors, including Crane, fly around the country teaching A.L.i.C.E. In June, the company has 18 classes scheduled, from Massachusetts to Colorado. As of January, 330 schools – kindergarten through college – had implemented A.L.i.C.E.

The program is based on the fact that most school shootings occur before police arrive and the belief that doing something is better than hiding.

“Would you rather find a room where they’re all in a corner, which you can just shoot, or [where] they’re all running around … acting like crazy little kids?”Alvarez said. “Which would be more difficult to shoot? We think it’s a little bit insulting to tell teachers go put yourself in a corner because you’re not smart enough [to decide how to act].”

Township districts, police departments haven’t reached consensus

Suburban Life asked several local districts whether they plan to adopt A.L.i.C.E. All said they were discussing the program and seeking direction from local law enforcement, but a consensus among emergency responders or schools seems unlikely.

Lyons Township High School District 204 Superintendent Timothy Kilrea said the district will not adopt any plan not endorsed by local law enforcement. That could prove difficult, if not impossible, with La Grange Park’s police chief firmly against implementing all aspects of A.L.i.C.E. and the Western Springs Police Department supporting the program.

La Grange District 105 Superintendent Glenn Schlichting said the six LT districts had not come to a consensus on a security protocol, but said the intent was to be as consistent as possible.

“We need some direction from [police],” Schlichting said. “There are some different opinions about that approach. Some [districts] are further along in adopting A.L.i.C.E. than we are.

“This is more of a philosophy about how people approach a crisis: How much autonomy, how much [individual] decision making is involved.”

For area districts, there are no easy solutions when it comes to plans to protect students from violent situations beyond their control.

“There’s no one answer that going to resolve [every] issue,” said Tom Akerman, director of physical facilities for District 102. “[Intruders] are going to adapt to all the strategies we’re adopting, so we’re going to have to adapt to their adaptations.”

Note to readers: This is the first installment in a series looking at security issues at local schools. Readers can share their thoughts by sending a letter to the editor to letters@mysuburbanlife.com