There have been 128 school shootings in America since the tragedy at Columbine. American children are growing up with locked doors, security cameras, and adults debating the best ways to keep them safe. An Iowa school district invited law enforcement to put safety back in the hands of students through a program that instructs kids to fight back.
When a sheriff’s deputy asks how they would survive a school shooting, the students at Colo-Nesco High School are armed with answers, and administrators are proud of that fact. “If there’s a shooter in the school, it’s going to be scary. So, we need to get them prepared,” said Colo-Nesco Elementary School Principal Mickolyn Clapper.
In fact, in a worst case scenario the teenagers know how to counteract and take down any would-be shooter. Sophomore Devin Francis explained, “It’s better to think about what we can do (in that situation), instead of what we cannot.”
Most local law enforcement agencies promote the program that Colo-Nesco implemented with training sessions and school assemblies earlier this year. The strategy called ALICE does not involve armed guards. No guns are used for defense. There is no budget busting cost or any of the things that superintendents consider deal-breakers.
ALICE stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate. More information on the strategy is detailed here.
“We were like every other district,” said Colo-Nesco Supt. Dr. Jim Verlengia. “There are many superintendents, districts, and organizations that have plans in place and based upon what we knew, we had a good plan.” He says now that it could have been much better. If the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary proved one thing to Dr. Verlengia, it’s that school shootings cannot be prevented. He said the only hope is to reduce the body count. “And that’s a really difficult thing to come to grips with.”
Story County Sheriff’s Capt. Barry Thomas explains how a lot of school districts have plans that unintentionally put students in harm’s way. “Eight out of every 10 shots that came out of (a school shooter’s) weapon were hitting their intended targets,” said Capt. Thomas. He explains that many schools enter a “lockdown” situation when a shooter enters. Students hide under their desks. Capt. Thomas said that makes them “sitting ducks.” So, the sheriff’s office trained Colo-Nesco on the ALICE program. Principal Clapper said, “(ALICE) just gives your kids a fighting chance.”
The Department of Homeland Security promotes safety measures similar to ALICE. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office supports implementing ALICE in schools. Des Moines school administrators said that they will meet with Des Moines police this spring to learn what ALICE is all about. In Johnston, teachers started training last week, but it may be some time before the program is fully implemented, if it ever comes to that point. Johnston School Resource Officer Jessica Jensen said, “We have not had all those discussions yet. Until we do, we’re just going to train our staff to think.”
Captain Thomas assured Channel 13 that there is no concern that a potential shooter would know that students and staff are trained with the ALICE approach. Capt. Thomas said, “Even if they knew (ALICE was the strategy), they can’t get in the mind of the teachers and the students to know what direction they are going to take their response. That’s the beauty of ALICE. It gives them options that the shooter’s not going to know about until it’s too late (to inflict anymore harm).”