2014-09-25 / Around Town

Middletown Schools Plan Survival Training

By Olga Enger

Staff and students of the Middletown School District will soon receive real-world training on how to respond or even fight back in the event a shooter targets a school.

Speaking in front of the School Committee on Thursday, Sept. 18, Middletown Police School Resource Officer Kevin Ferreira said the training, called ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate), was developed after the Columbine High School massacre to provide “options for maximal survival.”

Although it is difficult for parents to imagine a shooter in local schools, recent tragedies in similar communities demonstrate the threat is real, warned Ferreira.

“You can’t think, ‘Oh it’s Middletown, it’s not going to happen here.’ It’s happening in places like Middletown,” the officer said.

The ALICE approach will be a cultural shift for the schools, as it trains victims to evacuate the building or fight back instead of locking down and waiting for police to arrive.

“They [the students] can’t just take off; they will need to be accounted for,” suggested Committee Chair Theresa Spengler. Ferreira explained that although students will eventually meet at a designated location, the goal is to get the victims as far from the school as possible.

“It is a bit eye-opening as a teacher,” said Superintendent Rosemarie Kraeger. Spengler agreed it was a different approach, but stated it was a “very smart decision” to evacuate the building.

The first step of the ALICE method is to alert everyone of the situation.

“Information is the key to good decisions,” said Ferreira. “These kids are old enough. The students and teachers can make decisions on their own.”

How victims respond may dramatically impact their chances of survival. During the Virginia Tech massacre, two proactive victims were killed, compared to 28 victims who waited for police, said Ferreira.

“Our schools have great escape options; let’s use them,” he said. “Don’t just lock the door and sit in the corner.” While police miss up to 80 percent of their shots during an active situation, children waiting in a classroom are an easy target for a gunman, he added.

If evacuation is not an option, the police officer said fighting back would be the “last chance for survival” if faced with the intruder.

“If he does break through the barricade, jump on him,” said Ferreira. “It makes a whole lot more sense than being a sitting duck.”

School Committee Member Kellie Simeone supported the program but expressed concern that the middle school has students as young as fourth grade.

Ferreira reassured the committee that the training is modified based on student age. Kraeger acknowledged the nature of the training is sensitive, but referred to Ferreira as a “calming soul” who will make the training less intimidating for parents and students.

Middletown will join four other districts in the state that have implemented the ALICE program, including Newport, which underwent training last year. An educational meeting for parents is planned for November. The goal is to fully implement the program in the district by the start of the next school year. In other business:

. A motion to transfer the John F. Kennedy School to the Town of Middletown effective May 22 passed 4-1. Simeone voted against the motion, arguing that the committee should not set a date until they confirm the town is able to assume responsibly for the building.

. Kraeger described the school year opening as “bright, cheerful and inspiring.” Initial issues with bus delays and hiring have been resolved, she reported.

. There are discussions about a potential co-op hockey league for Newport and Middletown students, but nothing has been formalized, reported Kraeger.

. The next School Committee meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 16.

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