DeWITT, Iowa — Months before 26 people, including 20 children, were shot and killed at a Connecticut school, officials in the Central Community School District in DeWitt began retraining staff and students in how to react in the event of a school shooting.
In the aftermath of last month’s shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., training students in DeWitt has taken on a greater sense of urgency, said Terri Selzer, the dean of students at Central’s high school, middle school and intermediate school.
Last fall, the school district began training its staff in the Alert, Lockdown, Information, Counter and Escape, or ALICE, response system.
Training for students began last week, with sessions at the intermediate, middle and high schools.
As opposed to the more traditional “lockdown” response, which teaches students and staff to lock themselves in classrooms and wait until police arrive, the ALICE system emphasizes escaping the building as the first option, using information relayed through the school’s intercom system about the shooter’s location and direction of movement to choose the safest route.
ALICE training also teaches students that if they find themselves confronted by a person with a gun and have no safe means of escape, they should distract and confuse the shooter by throwing things at his or her head while trying to escape.
Selzer said the key to the ALICE system is that it gives students options.
“I really feel like this is going to give kids the opportunity to be empowered,” Selzer said.
The training for the students is tailored for their grade level.
While high school students watched a training video that was straight-forward about the subject, the intermediate school students in grades 4-6 watched a video created by students at Lange Middle School in Columbia, Mo., that used characters and a demonstration featuring a student with a Nerf gun.
But that doesn’t mean the video dances around the subject. The middle school girl who stars in the video says its purpose is to teach students what do to if there is “an active shooter in your school,” and refers to the “old-fashioned” lockdown where you lock the door, turn off the lights and go hide in a corner as the “sitting-duck lockdown.”
Selzer stopped the video at several points while showing it to a group of fifth-graders to give students a chance to discuss what they had learned and to make sure the students understood the demonstration in the video was not real.
“We don’t want to scare anyone,” Selzer said.
Selzer said the language used in discussing the issue will be toned down for students at Ekstrand Elementary School when training there begins this week.
When the video was over, School Resource Officer Shawn Ziemet reassured the students that school shootings are rare.
“This school is a safe place,” he said. “You guys are safe here, OK, and I want you to know that.”
A short question-and-answer session after the video gave several students time to ask about what to do in various scenarios. Selzer emphasized that the most important thing to remember was to get out of the school and go to the designated meeting spot at a nearby business.
Selzer said teachers have told her that after the training sessions, students frequently are discussing the best routes to escape the building, and that it’s good that the students are thinking ahead about what to do.