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Ames, Iowa is more than 1,500 miles from Parkland, Florida, but the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School felt too close for comfort. School leaders in Ames had prepared students for the event of a gunman in the building by practicing lockdown drills, but they wondered whether they were doing everything they could. Teachers in Ames are trained to fight back against a shooter, students aren’t. Then, Parkland happened.
“We had some pretty thorough discussions,” says Dr. Timothy Taylor, superintendent of the Ames Community School District, of teaching kids to fight back. “Would it be something that could be traumatic?”
The training, called ALICE Training, stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate. The “C” in this acronym, for “counter,” is controversial, because it means training people to fight back if a person with a gun enters their classroom. The fighting could involve tackling the shooter or throwing things at them. Across the country, 3,700 K-12 schools and 900 universities have implemented ALICE Training since the early 2000s. The U.S. Department of Education has supported teaching adults the fight method, but not students.
School officials in Ames recently decided it was time to include students in ALICE Training, and they plan to roll it out at the beginning of the next school year.
Critics of ALICE say it can cause undue anxiety among students, in preparation for an event that few will ever have to confront. As of 2016, almost 95 percent of students in U.S. public schools practice some sort of lockdown drill according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The likelihood a child will be killed at school is less than one in a million according to the government Bureau of Justice Statistics.
“I don’t know how it got to be that people thought that it was a good idea to train elementary grade, primary grade, first grade students to fight back against an armed intruder,” says Dr. Stephen Brock, a member of the National Association of School Psychologists and a professor at California State University Sacramento. Dr. Brock trains school psychologists.
“Schools are arguably one of the safest places for our young people to be,” he says. “I don’t want schools to come to be viewed as horribly violent, fatally flawed institutions because that’s not the case.”
On this episode of the podcast, we explore whether the benefit of training for the rare, school-shooter situation outweighs the trauma it might cause.