I didn't want to go. I had looked up ALICE and I had read the very (unnecessarily) frightening letter that went home in advance of the meeting. Even though the letter never defined the acronym, I knew that ALICE stood for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. I am a member of Moms Demand Action. I know that there have been more than 9000 gun-related homicides in the US since Sandy Hook, ten months ago. I have worked in an emergency room and in two children's hospitals. I know more than I want to know.
But I went to the meeting out of a sense of duty to the Fitzgerald and to my family. The meeting was not as well attended as I would have expected. Maybe there were many parents who felt as I do: we have seen enough and we are scared enough already. It's an act of faith to send your kids to school each day.
The first thing that I want to say is that the Safety Resource Officers are the bomb. They are fantastic. Officer Ann Frassica and her team are so professional and so competent and so knowledgable and so empathetic that I feel sorry for every other school district in the nation that they don't have our SRO's. Neener neener.
I also want to thank Superintendent Nicholson for identifying ALICE and bringing it to the district. ALICE is a concept from a police officer who is married to an elementary school principal: http://www.alicetraining.com/alice.aspx
The concept, as we learned, painfully, at the meeting is this:
- Alert: the current practice of saying "Lockdown" or whathaveyou over the PA doesn't work. There needs to be a more clear communications response in case of an intruder. This can include PA announcements that are specific regarding the threat (Crazy guy running towards library) or text messages
- Lockdown: the current practice is to lock the door (easily blown open with a kick or gunshot). If the door is barricaded with chairs or a desk, the gunman is slowed down and will likely move on
- Inform is a continuation of Alert and is used to advise where the threat is in the building, which may allow people to escape
- Counter: Yikes! We learned that our highly trained police are only able to hit 20% of moving targets. So, untrained intruders will hit even less. So, throw things, yell, scream, run. Don't sit under a desk like a rock until the bad guy shoots you.
- Evacuate: Here's the big difference. If A and I are working, teachers can make better decisions. Like, if the bad guy is on one end of a building, that means that we can run down the stairs and out onto the street. If there's a fire exit, go for it. If the bad guy is in the building, get out of the building.
The most chilling part of the meeting for me, by far, was listening to the 911 call from the librarian at Columbine High School. The librarian was told by the dispatcher to have all of the kids lay under tables and be quiet. We listened as Dylan Klebold entered the library and told everyone to stay where they were and began shooting. The librarian stayed on the line with the dispatcher while Klebold shot students in front of her.
The point was that, if the students and librarian had created a barricade, if they had thrown books at Klebold, if they had run instead of hiding, if they had used a fire exit, fewer deaths would have happened.
And I get it. I am even on board with it. Except for the unanswerable questions. Like, which kids freeze? Which kids are slow? Which kid goes back to get her backpack? And what about the teachers?
When I was in college, I was in a sorority. Most of my Sisters were elementary education majors. I remember teasing them about their projects of creating bulletin boards and their perfect writing. I don't remember any of them telling me that they were going into teaching because they wanted to be security experts. None of them ever told me that they wanted to be ready to throw their students out of windows so that they would survive. Survivalism never came up as a bulletin board theme.
In the five years that I have had a child at the Fitzgerald, I have grown very fond of the staff. All of them. And the idea that they, in addition to keeping my kids fed, and warm, and safe from playground falls, while teaching them to read and to write and to do math, are responsible for protecting them from the euphemistic 'armed intruder' saddens me and sickens me.
My husband warned me that if I turned this post into an anti-gun tirade that we would have Second Amendment Absolutists on our doorstep. And this isn't a tirade against guns. This is a plea to the common sense in everyone; a call to your humanity and compassion.
After the shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington DC two weeks ago, as my best friend's son was in lockdown in his elementary school, the chief of trauma at the hospital where the wounded were taken said that there was something wrong with the country. And she, a trauma surgeon, challenged the nation to put her hospital out of business.
I don't understand how it is easier for us to teach ALICE protocol to elementary school teachers and students than it is for us to implement common sense regulations on assault weapons. I can't accept that it is easier for us to bury innocent children than it is for us to help our mentally ill.