Amy Wells stood in front of a half-full gymnasium March 13 and spoke as gently as she could about a difficult issue.
The topic: What she and her staff were doing to train themselves and their students at Northridge Elementary School for a violent event in the school — commonly called an active shooter.
“You are here because there is not much of a chance for us to just hid in our classrooms anymore, which is how we used to do things,” Well said.
Parent meetings about A.L.I.C.E. training were scheduled in Newton schools this week Newton High School and Northridge kicked off the week. Cooper Early Education Center will host two meetings as well.
A.L.I.C.E. stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Confront, and Evacuate, and all USD 373 Schools will begin implementing these drills soon. Those drills will include drilling students.
“Our goal is to let you know what A.L.I.C.E. is, how we plan to use it and what the experience will be like when your children will be trained and what the drill will look like as well,” Wells said.
A.L.I.C.E. was created after the Columbine High School shooting — in 1999 two teenagers entered Columbine, Colorado, High School and went on a shooting spree. They killed 13 people and injured 20 others.
That training will include drills for a violent event within schools — an active shooter or active killer event.
"What A.L.I.C.E. has and what our training would be is pretty simple. The first thing is that there are no more codes (during an event)," Greg Dietz, assistant principal of Newton High School told parents Friday.
The announcements will now say "ALICE, ALICE, ALICE" and then give detailed information — which could include a description of who has entered the school, what they are doing and where they are.
"Once a lockdown starts, the police have keys, we have keys, and the teachers know that they will not open the door to anybody," Dietz said.
Students are asked to stay off of their cell phones during an active shooter event.
"I know everyone will want information from their kid just like that," Dietz said. "But if you recall what happened (in) the Excel event, there were so many people on their cell phones it shut the system down and they couldn't get calls in or out."
Before the drills occur, each school will host meetings with parents to talk about the training — and it is possible school staff will have suggestions for how parents can talk to their children about the issue.
According to Wells, during A.L.I.C.E. drills at the elementary school level, the announcement will simply be “This is a drill. Alice, Alice, Alice. We are practicing ... ” A scenario will not be announced.
She showed parents the presentation planned for students — that presentation concentrated on likening an A.L.I.C.E. drill a fire drill. It does not use language to suggest the training is for an active shooter or a violent event in the school.
“Our student training is designed for kids, it is very friendly,” Wells said. "It does not give scary details. It is developmentally appropriate and we will have mental health providers here for kids who say 'I was very upset by that.' ... We don't want to be part of traumatizing (children)."
Once that alert is sounded, teachers will have decisions to make — based on what entrance to the building is being used by the intruder.
Those options could include a lockdown and barricade — leading children into a bathroom, barricading the front door of the classroom and hiding. Countering — throwing things at an intruder already in a classroom is also considered an option. An evacuation is an option.
“What they have found with most active shooting events is that the shooter will choose to go for the greatest number of targets available. The purpose is a body count,” Wells said. “We know that countering can save kiddos lives. … At times there may not be an option to leave, but we want that to be the first option — to get out.”
Wells said at Northridge, evacuation will be the first option for every classroom. Countering will be the last.
“Knowing what to do will make the difference in survival,” Wells said. “... We are going to act on feet, but that is the strength of this training. … I love that we can empower our staff to make good decisions.”
In the case of evacuation, three is a plan for getting children back to their parents with the assistance of law enforcement.
During the both the Northridge and high school meetings, parents asked questions about security — from if doors open into classrooms or out into hallways as they thought of barricades to the number of entrances to the school, and what those entrances look like, at the schools.
"They'll think of a way to get inside the building, and that's where A.L.I.C.E. will help out to give people options in that crisis event," Dietz said.
At Newton High School one parent asked if pulling the fire alarm wouldn't accomplish the task of getting everyone out quickly. Dietz responded yes, but other information couldn't be heard over it. In addition, at Parkland High School in Florida shooter pulled the alarm and shoot people coming out of classrooms into the hallway.
"We can't plan for every scenario, there's just no way," Dietz said. "… The single lockdown drill that we had served a purpose, but it's no longer viable.”
Northridge plans training students, followed by a drill, later this spring. Wells said the school plans two drills a year, similar to the fire drill schedule.