Officials who help shape school safety policy in New Canaan are recommending training for all district staff in a new way of preparing students for violent incidents.
Members of the district’s Crisis Advisory Board, or ‘CAB,’ told the Board of Education last week that the powerful experiential training they’ve undergone in a more proactive approach to handling situations such as shootings should lead to new “lockdown” procedures at all public schools.
In traditional lockdown drills, children go into a classroom and teachers all follow the same procedures, South School Principal and CAB member Joanne Rocco told the Board of Ed at its regular meeting Dec. 3. Those steps include “locking the door, pulling down the shades, turning off the lights and students would all go into one corner of the room where they weren’t visible and would just wait,” Rocco said.
“So that was the traditional lockdown,” she said at the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School. “What all of the experts in the field of school safety really are saying is that is not the best approach to lockdowns, because we are not doing anything other than sitting and waiting.”
An alternative system, known as ‘ALICE’—an acronym for Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate—offers those inside a school options that are “not something sequential where you do this first and you do this second,” Rocco said.
“It really is based on the situation,” Rocco said.
As described during a presentation to the Board of Ed by Rocco and fellow CAB members Steve Bedard and Kristi Carriero—assistant principals at Saxe Middle School and NCHS, respectively—proactive steps during such an emergency could include barricading a door, spreading out rather than huddling together, finding alternate escape routes and phoning 9-1-1 when safe.
In all, 24 district employees and a handful of New Canaan Police (including SROs and a youth officer) have undergone the 16-hour, two-day training from the Medina, Ohio-based ALICE Training Institute, Rocco told the Board of Ed.
“We really wanted to talk about is to say, ‘Is this something that makes sense for us in New Canaan?’ And unanimously everyone agrees that we need to make some changes to our lockdown procedures and that this does offer the best options to us,” Rocco said.
Board members asked the panel whether they feel they have the resources they need (yes though more staff members should undergo ALICE training), which other districts using ALICE (Shelton, and Ridgefield is in the process of adopting it), whether Newtown is using it (don’t know), whether New Canaan school kids are doing drills based on ALICE now (not yet, the plan will be different at each level), whether the training is site-specific (no), what is the recommended percentage of teachers that should be trained in a district (there’s no figure) and whether there’s a national coalition around school safety best practices to leverage (no agency related to school safety supports traditional lockdowns any more).
While thanking the CAB members for doing their important work, some Board of Ed members also voiced concern that ALICE—which had been suggested by a New Canaan police officer—did not appear to be widely adopted by similar area school districts.
Board of Ed Vice Chair Dionna Carlson said she found it “shocking” that the panel couldn’t list more than a couple of districts nearby who are doing ALICE training.
“So, I guess what I am wondering is: What are they doing instead? Or why aren’t they using it?” Carlson said.
She added, “Particularly in this state I would think that we would be on forefront of districts being cutting edge on this kind of training, this is the standard. I think important for us to understand what other people are doing. And getting best practices across districts can only be helpful.”
Rocco said that CAB could research that question, though it’s possible many schools are still doing traditional lockdown drills. She noted that school personnel from Wallingford, Trumbull and Fairfield attended the same training as New Canaan district officials.
It wasn’t immediately clear just how the ALICE training will be rolled out to students.
Carlson asked Rocco what timeframe CAB envisions having enough capacity within school buildings “to be able to implement a lot of these pieces and have your first ALICE-type drills?”
Saying she could speak only to the elementary school level, Rocco answered that students already are doing things happen to be part of ALICE, such as evacuating a building out a window or thinking about how to exit a building when accustomed routes are blocked. Though elementary-age kids would not be asked to barricade doors, “we are ready to roll out with staff and practice some of these things with staff right away,” Rocco said.
Because kids already have gone through lockdown drills and discussed fire drills, the idea of finding alternate routes is “not scary” for them, Rocco said.
“There are lots of things we are already doing to prepare our kids for this, so I don’t think we can wait to roll it out, to have staff start doing some changes, and I think at middle school and high school they might be moving faster with children and certainly sharing more with children,” Rocco said.
Board of Ed Chair Brendan Hayes asked how the schools are working to improve connectivity to fire and police in order to ensure that response times are as fast as possible.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi said that district last year developed a Memo of Understanding with the police so that in case of a lockdown authorities “could click a button and have access install to cameras in buildings.”
“Generally we do not publicly discuss a lot of details around our school security,” Luizzi said, adding that ALICE was different and so the district is OK talking about it.