- Associated Press - Monday, December 7, 2015

ROCHESTER, Minn. (AP) - For many school districts, being prepared for a scenario like a fire or tornado comes with specific instructions, such as evacuating the building or gathering in storm shelters.

But when someone enters a school with the intent to harm, the lines become blurred. What should students, teachers and school administrators do: run, hide or fight?

Traditional lockdown procedures are thought to have originated in California during the late 1970s, according to the Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate Training Institute, as known as ALICE. The original procedures were developed in response to drive-by shootings and street crime happening outside of school buildings.

When there was an external threat, teachers would pull the curtains to prevent outsiders from seeing into the classrooms and protect those inside from flying glass. Lights were also turned off to prevent casting shadows onto the curtains so that outside threats could not pinpoint people inside. While hiding under desks, teachers and students were below the range of gunfire.

This particular drill became a model for all lockdown scenarios. But it could prove a fatal mistake for schools if there is an active shooter inside the building, said Vicky Shaw of ALICE.

On June 18, 2013, Vice President Joe Biden issued new guidelines for school safety that were built on emergency planning by the federal government. The new guidelines came in response to the December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In that attack, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 students and six adults.

The new lockdown drill procedures include run, hide or fight and recognize that school staff and students might have to implement more than one option using their own judgment in an active shooter situation.

The departments of Education, Justice, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services collaborated in releasing guidance to schools, colleges and places of worship on how to work with first responders and other partners to plan and prepare for emergencies.

However, many schools still have not adjusted their lockdown protocols to meet federal guidelines and continue to solely use the traditional lockdown procedure for all threats.

“Some schools don’t want to admit that they need to take care of this because it’s scary,” Shaw told the Post-Bulletin (https://bit.ly/1RnKERj ). “The concern is, what is the answer? How do we combat this? What’s the right answer? Some of those districts don’t know what to switch to.”

If a district fails to protect students from injury and provide an appropriate standard of care - including compliance with federal and state recommendations - that district can be found negligent, according to ALICE.

Schools are responsible for the students from the moment they step on the bus to go to school to the moment they get off the bus afterward, Shaw said.

A number of area school districts have already started to implement proactive training, swapping out the traditional lockdown drill for a program like ALICE and Run, Hide, Fight. Shaw said that the ALICE program has been implemented in 2,300 school districts across the country, and 13,000 districts have implemented either ALICE or Run, Hide, Fight.

Changes to traditional lockdown procedures already have begun for several school districts in southeastern Minnesota. As superintendent for both the LeRoy-Ostrander and Southland school districts in Mower County, Jeff Sampson said that his administrators are trained how to respond to an active-shooter situation.

“I know some schools are looking at some Run, Hide, Fight programming like ALICE.” Sampson said. “We are currently training students and staff this year.”

Triton Public Schools in Dodge County volunteered last year to help host a program similar to ALICE called ECHO3. Superintendent Brett Joyce said the training was very well attended.

“Every school takes safety very seriously,” Joyce said. “We train our staff and do our best to improve our plans for a variety of emergency situations. … We can never do enough to ensure that we are ready for every emergency, but all this helps do our best to prepare if something happens.”

Despite receiving and conducting training for his school district, Joyce said the work is never finished; the stakes are too high not to keep pushing for training.

During his time as high school principal and superintendent, Joyce never once had to initiate a lockdown procedure for an actual active shooter, and he prays his district never will.

“You’re never done with this. Nothing is more important than safety, and as staff we’re constantly in training mode,” he said. “I don’t know any school district that isn’t doing updates. You cannot afford not to. The cost is way too high.”

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Information from: Post-Bulletin, https://www.postbulletin.com

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