Some schools and police are teaching students to attack armed gunmen. But are they soft-pedaling the program and misleading parents in the process?
A.L.I.C.E. stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. The “counter” component of teaching school students to throw objects at armed intruders and to physically attack them is being question by many experienced educators and safety professionals.
However, A.L.I.C.E. training is being promoted in some law enforcement circles and schools as “enhanced lockdown procedures.” Given teaching students to attack armed gunmen is objectionable to many parents, how the program is being described raises questions as to whether A.L.I.C.E. training is being soft-pedaled in a misleading manner to parents who do not take a closer look and ask questions.
For example, in the Sycamore Community Schools in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area:
- In a February 25, 2011, letter to parents on A.L.I.C.E. training, the superintendent and two principals never make any direct reference to the “Counter” component of ALICE or that this program component calls for teaching students to attack armed gunmen. Instead, they refer to it as “additional training on how to respond to threatening situations” and “presentations will strengthen your child’s awareness of their safety and well-being.” However, district officials provided a “Participation Waiver” for parents who chose to exclude their child from the training.
- The Sycamore High School PTO meeting minutes for March 9, 2012 (ALICE Training in Sycamore High School PTO meeting minutes) documents in the Principal’s Report section an explanation to parents on the A.L.I.C.E. program. The minutes list A.L.I.C.E. as Avoid, Lockdown, Information, Communicate, Evade. It also says that, “Reviewed this concept and training with the students during the Lockdown drill The concept is what to after a lockdown takes place. How to be proactive to be able to get out of the building or reach other safe spots rather than just sitting a waiting.” Interestingly, the standard “Counter” component of A.L.I.C.E. training is replaced in this description to parents with “Communicate” — an inaccurate explanation of the A.L.I.C.E. acronym.
While the district affords an evening workshop on the program for parents, what about the majority of parents who likely would not attend and would never know if the “counter” component of teaching their kids to attack armed gunmen is part of the district’s plan?
And if the program was simply on how to “strengthen your child’s awareness of their safety and well-being” without teaching students to attack armed intruders, why would parents need a “Participation Waiver” to opt-out?
A similar observation can be found in a letter to Kankakee Valley High School parents in Indiana (see ALICE parent letter) that refers to A.L.I.C.E. as “enhanced the lockdown procedures.” The “Counter” component of A.L.I.C.E. is described as “Apply skills to barricade, and if necessary, distract, confuse and gain control.” It fails to more clearly and accurately describe “Counter” as what it really is: “Teaching your child to attack an armed gunman.”
The letter goes on to say, “In NO WAY are we asking or teaching our students or staff to make any attempt to subdue an armed gunman outside of their secure area. However, we will provide them with options that if faced with a life or death situation, can be applied to greatly enhance their chance of survival. These options include escaping, barricading the door, and protecting oneself by any means necessary should an armed intruder enter the room.”
“Any means necessary”??? Translated: “We’re teaching your kids to throw objects and attack armed gunmen.”
Parents may not be the only people not provided with full disclosure and transparency on the “Counter” component of A.L.I.C.E. training in their districts.
In Canton, Massachusetts, school board chairman John Bonnanzio was quoted in the Boston Globe as asking, “Is this age-appropriate?” His questions arose after a reporter questioned the program’s implementation in his district, which he says was something the board was “a little behind the information curve on all of this time.” Translated: It sounds like the board didn’t know the full details of the program.
A closer look into the origin and history of the A.L.I.C.E. training program shows that the program came under intense scrutiny when it gained international attention in 2006. In fact, the school district in Burleson, Texas, where the program originated dropped the “Counter” component of teaching students to attack armed gunmen after media coverage and questioning of the concept. The concept disappeared off the radar screen but has been recently resurrected, only this time with softer descriptions such as “enhanced lockdown procedures.”
If schools feel confident enough to take on the potential safety and liability risks associated with A.L.I.C.E. training, shouldn’t they be fully transparent with parents and not sugarcoat their description of how school and police officials are authorizing students to be taught to attack armed gunmen (often in one brief hour or less training session)?