ALICE’s online certification module begins by showing viewers facts about school shooter situations.
Written by Asher Leukhardt
Seaholm Principal Kyle Hall crouches beneath a desk at Birmingham Public School’s (BPS) central offices. Various contingencies run through her head as her heartrate quickens and adrenaline courses through her veins. Suddenly, someone aggressively jiggles the door handle and a BPS staff member belligerently enters the room armed with a toy Nerf gun, targeting their coworkers. Hall and other District faculty move to subdue the mock attacker, and, soon, the simulation has ended. The program it’s part of, however, is far from over.
This exercise is part of a school shooter preparedness course created by the ALICE Training Institute, a company which specializes in teaching organizations about their options in the event of a shooting in their building. BPS contracted with the company late last spring and is currently training all faculty in its procedures. According to Interim-Superintendent John Silveri, students will receive training too, however likely not February 2019 at the earliest.
“We want to make certain adults are well versed, experienced and as comfortable with the material as can be before presenting to kids,” Sirveli said. “We also want to be certain to involve students in a way that will not cause undue anxiety or even fear. Furthermore, we believe that the new superintendent, expected to be in place around the first of February, will need and want to have input into how we successfully introduce this to students.”
The ALICE acronym, as its electronic certification module explains, stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform and Evacuate, which the company claims is designed for maximum versatility.
Deputy Superintendent of School Administration Rachel Guinn says that the district has a concrete plan of procedure regarding the staff implementation of ALICE training, which is costing the District a total of $57,570 over a three-year contractual period. After the electronic training module, which awards teachers a basic training certificate, Guinn explains the District’s next step was to have 53 BPS faculty members from different schools become ALICE-certified instructors at a two-day class.
“An ALICE certified instructor has attended a two-day class, has understood and partook in hands-on training, what A-L-I-C-E is, they’ve done teach-backs, they’ve ran through scenarios, they’ve developed and run their own scenarios, so they are now instructors,” ALICE National Trainer and Director of Product Development Chad Cunningham said. “Then, they can come back to your organization and train everybody else in the hands-on approach.”
Seaholm Principal Kyle Hall, Assistant Principal Dr. Omar Hakim and teachers James DeWald and Lou Pavloff attended ALICE-led courses at BPS’s central administration offices on September 18 and 19, and will be training all Seaholm staff in the kinesthetic aspects of ALICE training.
Prior to the wider staff ALICE training through hand-on demonstrations at all District schools, there was a symposium at Groves auditorium featuring ALICE presentations including the Birmingham Police Commander Scott Grewe and Deputy Superintendent Guinn followed by a question and answer period.
Hall outlines the plan going forward after the district-wide assembly, which includes fully educating the rest of the staff and practicing ALICE techniques in staff-only ALICE drills with Nerf guns, roleplay and ALICE techniques.
“The next step would be to run those sessions” so the ALICE-trained faculty can educate the rest of Seaholm’s staff, Hall said. “On a half day, when students are gone, we might have different scenarios going on in the building.”
Upon completion of staff training, BPS is then going to begin engaging students, however, Hall discloses that information pertaining to when that will be and what it will incorporate has not been forthcoming.
“We’re not ready to get into the student training… I haven’t had a lot of information given to me about that,” Hall said. “I’m not absolutely positive [when students will be taught ALICE], all I know is she [Guinn] said that we are not ready to do that. I do not know when it would be. It’s above my paygrade.”
Guinn admits that no timeline exists for students, citing the difference for and accommodation of student and parent opinion.
“What I can share with you is that right now we are focused on the adult learning portion of this so that before it’s presented to students we will have thoughtful conversation about it,” Guinn said. “As for how each of the components are going to be rolled out to students, there will be discussion of moving to Alice protocols to students this year that’s the that’s the hope.”
Guinn promises the plans are afoot for this discussion to include a community night for BPS parents and students at an informational presentation about the ALICE program and an audience Q&A. No date has been set for such a congregation.
A police officer presents at the district-wide symposium on the ALICE program in Groves’ Auditorium. Photo courtesy of Peter Smith.
While Guinn accentuates the fact that there is no official timeline for educating students on ALICE, she does offer what she believes to be a likely possibility for when the District will administer typical and scenario instruction.
“As far as when do we start doing barricading in and counter techniques for [students], later than February then, maybe. We need to be having a conversation with students earlier than that,” Guinn said.
In part of tactfully implementing the ALICE program, Guinn says that students will likely be unable to opt out of normal instruction, however will have the ability to abstain from participation in the active shooter simulation scenarios. In general, she believes that how the District conducts this training must be a thoroughly-planned process which attends to everyone’s needs.
“Especially with the students, because you want to be mindful of people’s opinions and the conversation and everything, there are several components to this,” Guinn said. “We need to make sure that we’ve taken into consideration our students with special needs so we don’t scare students that may be unable to speak or move that we’ve come up with an active plan for.”
Each letter in ALICE corresponds to multiple developed techniques. A-L-I-C-E entails, notifying the school’s occupants that there is an active shooter within or outside of the school, securing staff and students in locked rooms with barricaded entry points as well as preparing for the occasion of an extended lockdown, continuing the flow of information about the situation to all staff and students as it is readily available to educate their decisions, executing methods of distraction, like yelling or throwing objects, and physical confrontation, which includes students and staff coordinating to physically subdue the attacker and exiting the buildings through normal walkways as well as windows, respectively.
The program, which was developed in 2001 by ALICE Training Institute founder Greg Crane. A former educator and Burleson, Texas SWAT officer, Crane created the program to the increase survivability of active shooter situations by offering flexible and active protocol for such events within several different settings, including schools.
“When you see situations where there’s activity, people are empowered to respond, as they have options and don’t just do one thing, they mitigate casualties and increase their survivability,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham says the training’s principles and techniques are delivered via a varied method of electronic and kinesthetic training exercises referred to as the blended approach.
“We look at what is called a blended approach. That blended model is having an online learning, when people can take it at their leisure… so everyone has the same base knowledge,” Cunningham said. “The other part of the blended approach is… the hands-on approach— doing demonstrations on how the different techniques work and possibly scenarios on how to use the strategies that they’ve learned in the e-learning.”
At ALICE’s core is its mailability, the online training module explains to viewers, saying that the program’s techniques are intended to be utilized in any order and can be shaped to conform to the needs of a situation. Hall says this hallmark of the program distinguishes it from previous shooter response plans and presents a shift in thinking when considering school shooting circumstances.
“It’s all about choosing the best option for where you might be at the time. It’s the antithesis of what we’ve been teaching, so it takes a little bit to change that mindset,” Hall said.
ALICE’s online train module discusses summarizes the counter technique.
According to Cunningham, the ALICE doctrines and teaching materials are constructed to promote safety through broadening the scope within which staff and students are instructed to act in school shooter situations.
“We provide training and empowerment and information to people in a series of training techniques that people need to know,” Cunningham said. “These are all strategies, philosophies and concepts on how we can increase survivability— increase it by empowering others with information and drilling and training—, and we empower them to make decisions based on information provided to them.”
ALICE training was first proposed within the District in May 2017 by unnamed teachers at Derby Middle School, Guinn says. The group of educators submitted a request through their faculty advisory council, which was referred to Guinn. By September of 2017, Guinn had delegated time and resources to an investigation of ALICE’s viability with other District officials and the police departments of Beverley Hills, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Franklin, Southfield, Troy and West Bloomfield, which she refers to as “the municipalities.”
“I committed to studying that for a year with others, and we brought the municipalities together they all were in support of implementing run hide fight or Alice or some iteration of that,” Guinn said.
In the spring of 2018, after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., a memo from Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R) was distributed to each of the state’s school districts requesting they reconsider their emergency response plans. Guinn claims the memo spurred several discussions about school security at the District’s bi-annual meeting with the municipalities. At the meeting, Guinn proposed three recommendations: install cameras in all schools, furnish main offices with panic buttons alerting law enforcement of a potential situation which they could assess using the school’s cameras and update the District’s active shooter protocol to better reflect the most recent recommendations of law enforcement at all levels of government.
After the meeting, the District worked collaboratively with the Birmingham Public Schools Board of Education and had inked a contract with ALICE by late May.
Guinn says the District ultimately selected ALICE as it suited many of their needs aside from offering an adaptive, action-based program.
“[ALICE] allows you to be a certified program, and when you move towards certification it really manages sort of all of the nuts and bolts of all of your employees being trained all having access to this platform and ensuring that the same message is being communicated,” Guinn said. “The certification it ensures that everyone received the opportunity to learn those choices. We like the blended learning approach.”
In addition to offering active response strategies, Cunningham says ALICE, which has trained approximately 4200 schools nationwide, complies with and foreran the current recommendations of law enforcement agencies at various levels of government and has proven useful in school-shooter situations, pointing to incidents at West Liberty-Salem High School in West Liberty, Ohio and Mattoon High School in Mattoon, Ill.
ALICE’s online certification module exposes viewers to different sounds of gunfire.
“Events have happened at ALICE-trained facilities and the people there at those facilities have given us testimony that, without the training that they had, the outcome might have been worse,” Cunningham said.
The implications of this program are, as BPS teachers, administrators and students described, jarring, scary and nerve-racking but, overall, helpful.
“You feel… helpless even though it’s [ALICE] meant to do just the opposite. You quickly realize that you don’t have a lot of control,” Seaholm English teacher Robin Moten said. “To do nothing is not an option anymore it just isn’t, and that again makes me so sad. I am truly disturbed by all of it— the fact that I have to be trained in this, the fact that the world has gone to this this place, that I have to think about exit strategies for my students.”
Others, too, are thankful for the program’s implementation.
I think the old method of lock down, sit down, get down is out of the question,” physical education teacher and certified ALICE trainer James DeWald said.
“They seem like logical steps that you would take,” senior Ana Davis said about the training.
The Highlander educated Davis and senior Vincent DeSantos about the program prior to their interviews as they were unaware of its details, as they claimed most other students were.
“I like the fact there’s actually a concrete step towards more. It makes me feel safer,” DeSantos said.
Amid an acceptance of the fact that the District must do something, as teachers and students said, was the notion that this program illustrates the continual shift in the role of the teacher towards becoming a defender of the classroom instead of strictly an educator.
“I haven’t heard anyone say that they either went into the field or come to school expecting to have to think about these things,” Guinn said. “So, this has been a shift in all of our thinking that when we enter school that we actually have to think about an active shooter it’s terrible, and it’s a change in our thinking as a result of the times.”
Those trained in the September ‘train the trainer’ event expressed that the training had deeply affected them.
“You learn how to respond, you experience it. It’s kind of weird, because you know it’s all fake and they use Nerf guns, but you’re hiding in a corner or under a table or something like that, and you don’t know when they’re coming but you know they’re coming,” Hall said. “They come in and they basically shoot you with a Nerf gun. You do get that tense feeling of when somebody’s going to come in and how they shake the door.”
“It was emotional. I have been exhausted after each day…I don’t feel like I’ll ever enter a space again without looking at life just a little bit differently in terms of and entry points exit points, things that I might use to barricade a door. That’s not typically how my brain has worked in the past, thankfully, or maybe not,” Guinn said. “I don’t know whether that’s good or not but that’s how my brain will work and that’s how it is already working even just since day one of the training.”
Hall holds the training to be a valuable resource which is becoming increasingly helpful to schools during a precipitous increase in incidents of school violence. However, Hall considers the program as a solemn reminder of an uncomfortable reality.
“There’s a certain loss of innocence as you start to accept that this is going on— that these instances have gone on. So, I find that, in the end I feel empowered,” Hall said. I will do anything I can to keep the students at Seaholm safe. So, if that means learning this [ALICE] we’ll do that, then I will learn it, I’ll do it and I’ll embrace it.”
A version of this article appears on the front page of The Highlander’s October 1 edition and continues on page 3.
Asher Leukhardt is The Highlander’s opinion editor and a sophomore with a year of journalistic experience as a staff writer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org with question or comments about this article. If you have a tip, please contact us at email@example.com and/or visit our website’s confidential tips page.