CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Many Iowa school districts are turning to a new answer for school violence but not everyone supports the new method.
A popular national program called ALICE, is changing the way schools respond to emergencies like school shootings. A report from Iowa Watch, a non-profit investigative news organization with the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism, found 14 of the state’s 30 largest school districts are moving to more aggressive emergency response policies, like ALICE.
“Traditionally, locking in place, securing in place, that was our only option,” said Sergeant Jorey Bailey of the Iowa City Police Department. “ALICE changes that by adding additional options. Not taking away the lock down method, but just giving us more tools to use.”
ALICE stands for Alert, Lock down, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate.
It encourages students and staff on site to do what they can safely do on their own to divert a gunman, even if that means responding before law enforcement officials get there.
“What are your options when they bring that fight to you?” Bailey said. “You can be what they expect you to be, a passive victim hiding in a corner, or you can do something, anything to survive.”
That’s what the “counter” component of ALICE is all about.
It means using anything necessary, whether that’s a stapler, fire extinguisher, or chair, as an improvised weapon.
However, some people worry that by teaching young students that method, they might end up putting themselves in danger, instead of safely hiding from an intruder.
But Susie Poulton, the Director of Health and Student Services for Iowa City Community Schools, disagrees.
“The counter is just an option,” Poulton said. “It’s a last-ditch effort.”
Others are concerned that the training is too violent for students to go through.
Laurel Day, the security director for Cedar Rapids Community Schools was quoted in a recent Iowa Watch report about her reservations regarding the program.
“Alice has some really great information in it,” Day said. “But it is highly graphic and highly disturbing to anyone who is not in law enforcement.”
Because of that assessment, the Cedar Rapids school district has decided to only incorporate parts of the ALICE program into its overarching emergency response plan.
“I think it was best practice when we made that decision,” said Cedar Rapids Superintendent Dr. David Benson. “We’re going to an additional training next fall, we’re sending out trainer and we’re sending the police department. If we’re informed that there’s a better practice, we’ll certainly take that up.”
The Iowa City Community School District has already put its entire staff through the ALICE training.
Susie Poulton said the school will start to run age-appropriate drills with students in the fall, using the ALICE curriculum.