NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Schools have long used lockdowns as a primary means of protecting children against an armed intruder. And while those measures have worked to save lives during horrific episodes of shootings inside school buildings, some districts have traded in the defensive lockdown for a more proactive and controversial means of protection known as ALICE.
The North Ridgeville school district is looking to implement the program over the next year once teachers and students receive training in ALICE, which stands for “alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.”
“One criticism of lockdowns is that they tie people’s hands into saying, ‘This is the only response I have’,” Superintendent Jim Powell said.
Powell and other administrators discussed the change with school board members during the board’s regular work session Tuesday night.
Powell said everyone is aware of the controversial aspects of ALICE, which trains teachers and students in methods that range from barricading rooms and escaping from a building entered by an armed person to physical confrontation of a gunman.
“That’s the hot button in all of this … getting to the point of countering or fighting back,” Powell said.
That most dramatic or extreme component of the ALICE protocols is also the one generally seen as a last resort, Powell said.
“People need to understand that there are different parts to countering in a situation in which an active shooter walks into a room ready to shoot you,” Powell said.
“Instead of huddling in the corner, people can spread out across a room to confuse the shooter,” Powell said. “This is why training is so important.”
The school district has been fortunate enough to not have experienced any incident of an armed person inside a school building.
Liberty Elementary School was put on lockdown in October when police searched near the school for suspected burglars.
Ohio schools have been required to have safety drills at least once a year since 2007, after the 2006 passage of a bill mandating school systems to update their safety plans every three years as a means of being prepared for threats.
Opponents of ALICE have claimed it could expose teachers and students to greater harm through possible confrontations with intruders.
But supporters say taking steps to escape or otherwise thwart a dangerous individual is far better than being “sitting ducks” huddled in a locked classroom.
The ALICE program was first discussed locally about a year ago, according to school board president Maria Sycz.
William Greene, the district’s assistant superintendent of building services, and Amy Peck, the middle school principal, have taken the training.
After asking for more information, the pair again raised the subject with board members this week.
“We’re going to have Bill Greene do more information-gathering so we can start planning for training of staff,” Sycz said. “The board will then need to adopt a policy for this.”
The schools will also work with North Ridgeville police Officer Calvin Cross, who serves as the district’s school resource officer.
Cross and Police Chief Michael Freeman are certified ALICE trainers and have endorsed the plan, Sycz said.
“They feel this is another alternative for us to pursue besides a strict lockdown in which kids could be sitting ducks,” Sycz said.
Costs for the ALICE training would be minimal, according to officials, who said the logistics of training 350 staff members have to be worked out.
Both Powell and Sycz cited Wilcox Elementary School as a prime example of a building that could use tactics taught as part of the ALICE program.
“An intruder could enter the school from the front, but those in the back half of the building could have a decent chance of getting out and getting to safety, whereas in the traditional lockdown, students could be cowering in their rooms until who knows when,” Sycz said.