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EACS superintendent: Parents on board with security program

NEW HAVEN – Parents appear to be on board with an East Allen County Schools plan to give students and school employees options other than hiding under desks in the event of an armed intruder, the superintendent says.

About 60 parents, community members, school employees and law enforcement officials attended Tuesday’s meeting to discuss the ALICE training program.

The program is available through the Medina, Ohio-based ALICE Training Institute and provides tools and strategies on how individuals can respond to potentially dangerous situations.

ALICE is an acronym that represents an alternative way of responding to a crisis through five concepts – alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.

The ALICE training method emphasizes that the best way to survive an active shooter is to escape and suggests options to fighting back – like barricading a door or throwing books at the intruder to distract him or her.

EACS Superintendent Ken Folks said he sent a letter to parents and received an overwhelming amount of support for the program – and nothing else.

“I haven’t had any phone calls, nothing like that. Everyone seems to be reacting positive to ALICE and East Allen’s decision to be proactive about safety,” Folks said.

The ALICE program will not call for armed teachers or staff members and the district is not considering that as an option, Folks added.

Chris and Stacey Fields, the parents of three Heritage Elementary Schools students, said they fully support the concept of keeping students informed.

“I don’t like my kids not to know things about what’s going on,” Stacey Fields said. “They can comprehend that there’s an emergency and they should be able to know if they are in danger.”

Chris Fields said a program like ALICE is “long overdue” and said he hopes the district also train parents on the protocol.

At least one Indiana school district – Carmel Clay Schools north of Indianapolis – already uses the ALICE program.

Sgt. Phil Hobson, a Carmel Police Department officer and supervisor of the school resource unit, and Amy Skeens-Benton, a school safety specialist and assistant principal at Carmel Clay Schools, attended Tuesday’s meeting to present the program to parents and teachers.

“Before the ALICE program, we were teaching our kids an inappropriate response to violence,” Skeens-Benton said.

For decades, students have been taught to hide rather than following their instincts and common sense to flee, she said.

Hobson and Skeens-Benton played a 911 tape from the shooting at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999 as they explained that the librarian, who can be heard on the call telling students repeatedly to hide, followed protocol when she likely could have saved lives by instead encouraging students to flee out a nearby door.

“The average law enforcement response to an active shooter varies from five to seven minutes,” Hobson said. “The average shooting is about three to five minutes. This program addresses that time before the police get there to help.”

The ALICE program does not change anything about the way law enforcement responds to an emergency, but does teach students and teachers to take responsibility for their safety, he said.

The EACS school board will discuss the ALICE program and a board policy change related to school safety during the March 4 meeting.

If approved by the board, training for the district’s safety specialists will begin at the end of April and staff training will take place in late April and May.