The issue: Rising threats of violence are forcing changes in school policy.
The local impact: New ALICE program being implemented at RASD.
Schools focus on educating kids.
After all, that is their primary purpose.
However, in recent years a greater emphasis in schools has been placed on making sure those students are safe while they are in class.
Efforts, such as installing security doors and hiring officers to be on site, have been done, and policies have been implemented that guide staff and students about what to do if something bad would happen.
Schools even practice, in the Redwood Area School District they are known as Code Red drills, to ensure people know what they need to do in an emergency situation.
For the most part, that policy has been what is known as the lockdown, where classrooms are locked and people find the best place to hide hoping that whatever threat is in the building will not find them.
While this practice can be effective at times, experts and recent events will indicate it is not always the best option. So, more and more schools are providing new policies that include additional training and education for teachers and students that give them options in those situations.
The Redwood Area School District is in the process of implementing a new policy that includes a procedure known as ALICE.
In advance of the current school year, members of the staff were trained in the use of ALICE, with representatives of the Redwood Falls Police Department on hand to provide that training.
Dana Woodford, a local officer and the school’s resource officer (SRO), and Mike Monson, a local police officer, received ALICE training at an event in Willmar this past spring, and as a result they are now able to train others.
“We have had a very good safety plan in place,” said Woodford, “but the reality is we have to adapt with the times and help people learn to be in charge of their own safety.”
According to Monson, the idea of the lockdown now in place in schools across the country started in California where schools often have large groups of students outside during the day.
“They were putting a plan in place for drive by shootings,” said Monson, adding it made sense for students in that scenario to run into the building and lock themselves in. “That doesn’t always work when an active shooter is in the building.”
The ALICE program is an acronym for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate, and Woodford said the idea behind it is to provide people with training that allows them to use any of these options to address the threat.
She added ALICE is not a step by step process, but rather it is a laundry list of potentials to choose from in an emergency.
As an example, if an active shooter is in the school and has been seen on one end of the building, it may make sense to have those on the opposite end of the building to get out rather than hunker down and wait.
Learning different ideas about what can be done, such as barricading the door in a room or disabling the door in a way that limits access are things one can also have as an option, added Monson.
Monson said the training he and Woodford attended was an eye opener for them as well, as they went through different scenarios, including one where they were required to just lock down and try to hide.
“It is not fun to just sit and wait knowing you could get killed,” said Monson.
Rick Ellingworth, Redwood Area School District superintendent, said it has been crucial for the school district to have Woodford on site and a good relationship with the local police department to provide more effective ways to address those emergencies.
“What we learned is that we were very one-dimensional in our approach,” said Ellingworth. “The ALICE training has provided our staff with multiple strategies they can use to respond it an emergency situation.”
Ellingworth said the school is intentionally being very transparent about its efforts, and will soon be providing videos on the school Web site that further explain ALICE to allow parents and the community a chance to learn what the school is doing and why it is doing it this way.
“We don’t want to keep this a secret,” said Ellingworth. “We want the rest of the community to join in with us.”
That is already happening, as other entities were also involved in the ALICE training at Wilmar, including a group from Southwest Health and Human Services (SWHHS).
Lauren Geurts, SWHHS emergency preparedness coordinator, said a coalition of people who work for the program have been trained, and it is the intention to provide training to the rest of the staff in all of the counties SWHHS serves. That includes Redwood County.
With threats popping up at courthouses in recent years, Geurts said having employees trained to know what they should do is only going to ensure they are safe.
“So far we have trained three of the counties we serve,” said Geurts. “For me the ALICE training provides a feeling of empowerment, because I know there is something I can do.”
While the counter option is part of the training, that is not the only option. However, it is an option if an active shooter should enter the space where one is at. Countering could mean anything from using improvised weapons to throwing items at them to disable their plan.
“With this training we can do so much more than before,” said Geurts.
In the local school district, the plan is to give teachers some time to come up with their own plans for their rooms and then later this fall to begin training the students in ALICE.
Woodford said how that unfolds will certainly be different from one teacher to the next and from building to building, but the bottom line is that it sends a message that the school is taking a new approach to the safety and security of everyone in the building.
Monson said when a report of an active shooter is made it takes time for law enforcement to respond, and having ALICE in place provides those in the building the opportunity to address the situation until that help arrives. Woodford added the training also offers guidance for other potential scenarios, such as what a school can do if they have been informed that someone is in the community who is considered dangerous.
In that case, a lockdown may be implemented to make sure everyone is safe and away from the danger.
“Just talking about this does not give you a good feeling,” said Woodford, “but neither does the alternative.”
No, said Woodford, students are not being encouraged to put their lives in danger by attacking gunmen.
Rather, this is about putting all of the options on the table and responding in the best way possible during a very tense situation.
Those who would like to learn more about the ALICE training and how to sign up for it are encouraged to contact Monson at the Redwood Falls Police Department at (507) 637-4005 or Woodford at the school at (507) 644-3531.