At Oakhurst Elementary School (OES) last week, students in grades K-5 were called to the expansive multi-purpose room for a singular purpose: to practice a safety drill in which they would shelter in the event of an active threat.
When it comes to risk-preparedness and security measures, this kind of real-life training is becoming as common as a fire drill. And that’s how it should be, according to the ALICE Training Institute.
Like all students enrolled in the Bass Lake School District, the kids at OES are becoming familiar with a practice based on the key words Alert, Lock down, Inform, Counter, Evacuate — ALICE. District teachers and staff recently received an ALICE safety training, presented by Deputy Jack Williamson, of the Madera County Sheriff’s Department
Using age-appropriate curriculum, including a book titled “I’m Not Scared, I’m Prepared,” the children are learning ways to behave in the face of a critical threat, including an active shooter situation, known as a “dangerous someone.”
The book is written by Julia Cook, a nationally recognized children’s author, counselor and parenting expert. “I’m Not Scared,” follows a young local ant who goes to Ant Hill School. Students at Ant Hill trust their teachers as they are taken through the ALICE steps using clear language and colorful imagery that sets the stage for further training.
The purpose of the meeting in the multi-purpose room at OES last week was to instruct students on how to quietly disburse and hide, following their teachers’ cues, in the event of an all-call or a lock down on campus.
OES Principal Kathleen Murphy explained the make-believe scenario to the children, who are learning the same drill the ants at Ant Hill School learn.
In the book and in the classroom, teachers talk about the Sheep (students), the Shepherd (teacher) and the Wolf (threat). With a wolf at the door, Mrs. Murphy assigned students to a variety of secret nearby areas where they would shelter silently, so the wolf wouldn’t figure out their exact location.
“The children’s book has been instrumental in helping teach the concepts of ALICE,” says Mrs. Murphy, “and it also served as a means to have conversations of what to do in case of an emergency; it’s all about being prepared, and we prepare them as appropriately as we can, as it is not our purpose to scare students.”
After a couple of tries, grouped by class and led by teachers, children were able to move quickly to pre-designated areas, tuck themselves away with classmates, and remain in place long enough for a theoretical threat to be mitigated. As part of the school’s security plan, the locations and details are not made public.
According to teachers in grades 4 and 5, students took the lesson to heart and subsequent conversations included what they could do to be proactive — following the C in ALICE, which is counter.
In August of 2017 a state audit found that California K-12 schools are unprepared for incidents of gun violence, based on the state’s examination of three schools and three county offices of education.
State law does not require schools to have active-shooter response procedures in their “comprehensive school safety plan.” The audit also noted that the California Department of Education (CDE) fails to provide sufficient guidance to help ensure that schools comply with safety plan requirements. An earlier partnership with the Department of Justice was halted due to funding issues. (Source: Security Magazine)
Greg Crane, Founder and President of the ALICE Training Institute, says the US Department of Education now recommends preparedness as described in its School Emergency Operation Plan (June 2013):
In her most recent newsletter, OES Principal Murphy wrote,
Providing a safe and secure campus for all students, staff and parents is our District’s priority. We live in precarious times now, and more than ever, we need to be vigilant and proactive in constantly looking at ways to better secure our campuses. Within the District, we practice two types of drills — a monthly fire drill and a quarterly lock down drill. The fire drill involves students and staff evacuating their classroom or building, and walking to a designated area outside. The lock down drill’s purpose is to practice what to do in different types of emergency scenarios. Over the years, the lock down drill scenarios have included cartoon characters and humor because, as a staff, we will never create a scenario to frighten the children; they get enough of that from the news and movies!
All visitors are asked to report to the OES office between 8 a.m. and 2:20 p.m., says Mrs. Murphy. Visitors on campus during the day must display a visitor’s badge.
“We ask all parents to come to the office when they need to take their child out early from class, versus going straight to the classroom. At the end of the day, we ask parents to wait for their child at the back gate, or use the drive through lane, or wait in front of the office instead of waiting at the classroom door.”
Principal Murphy says the most important thing the community can do is be vigilant and observant, and report any concerns to local law enforcement.
“So many are on social media, and if they read or see a post of an unusual or disturbing nature, say something. If one sees suspicious behavior around the community, report it. We all have to work together to help provide a safe and secure campus for students, parents, staff and the community.”