Some Students Taught to Battle School Intruders, Shooters

By Nirvi Shah — June 14, 2013 3 min read
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Six months since the shootings in Newtown, how schools protect students from shootings and disasters of any kind remains very much in the spotlight.

States have tried to add new requirements or options, from giving teachers the choice to carry guns to school to mandating more staged crises so students and staff members know how to act, an ongoing Education Week analysis has found.

Last month, I wrote about how drills and training that specifically require preparation for “active shooter” scenarios are becoming more common, since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., six months ago today.

And just a week ago, in Ohio, for example, state Attorney General Mike DeWine released his own template for school safety planning that included some language that has raised some eyebrows by including the idea that students and staff members should consider defending themselves in the case of an intruder.

“Staff and students may utilize methods to distract the shooter/intruder’s ability to accurately shoot or cause harm, such as loud noises or aiming and throwing objects at the shooter/intruder’s face or person,” the plan says at one point.

Some private companies teach students and staff members just that as part of their school safety training.

Response Options, a Texas-based company begun by former elementary school principal Lisa Crane and her husband, Greg, a police officer, was created after the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colo. At the time, Greg Crane questioned Lisa Crane about what she would have done in such a situation.

“I said ‘We have code red—a typical lockdown. I put out a code red, we get in the classroom, shut out the light, and then we wait for you’,” she remembers telling her husband. He was incredulous. How would such a lockdown work in the cafeteria or when children were outside? And what if students and staff members found themselves sequestered with a shooter? “I said ‘I don’t know. This is all they’ve ever told us.’”

The couple devised ALICE training, as in “ALert, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate.” They teach everything from how to barricade doors with whatever furniture can be moved—and putting castors on some pieces in advance of an emergency if necessary. Evacuating and getting students out of harm’s way are the ultimate solutions, Lisa Crane said.

“The ‘C’ [counter] is the most controversial,” she said. “But if you make yourself a hard target, you have a real good chance of gaining back control of a situation or getting out.”

Students—junior high level and older, only—can be taught to throw objects at shooters to impair their aim and hurt them. Students and staff members should be moving around and making noise, also to distract an intruder and make themselves more elusive targets. And schools can choose to teach students and staff to swarm a shooter, grabbing hold of the person’s extremities and using body weight to immobilize them.

While the company has trained school districts all over the country, a lot of their business has been in Ohio. Crane estimates about 500,000 students in the Buckeye State alone have been trained in the ALICE way, and she and her husband are in the process of moving their business from Texas to Ohio now.

Some school safety experts are wary of the timing of the company’s move and the language in DeWine’s recent school safety plan. And they worry about whether the training adequately provides for the safety of students with disabilities. Crane said it does: They would never be instructed to attack a shooter and their classrooms should be the ones where furniture is fitted with wheels so it can be moved in front of doors in case of an attacker.

In the 8,000-student Sylvania, Ohio, school district, however, ALICE training became an obvious choice: A shooting simulation exercise showed the district’s existing safety plan would have resulted in many, many deaths, said Bob Verhelst, the district’s director of student services.

“Rather than to just go hide in the corner, we do have options,” said Verhelst, whose district has used the training program for two years. “What we have been doing is not a good way to keep our kids safe.”

PHOTO: Sheriff’s deputy Chad Rogers, center, advances with fellow officers during a full-scale “active shooter” exercise this spring at Elmira High School in Elmira, Ore. An increasing number of states are enacting or considering laws to require schools to practice safety drills that involve multiple agencies and volunteer students and school staff.—Brian Davies/The Register-Guard/AP

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.