Origin & rejection of ALICE Training: Kids fighting armed gunmen

Posted by on December 27, 2011

Most school leaders probably don’t know that the component of ALICE training in which children are taught to attack armed intruders in schools was actually rejected by the school district in which the model originated in 2006.

A.L.I.C.E. (Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate) Training is a program being advocated in a small but noticeable number of school-communities.  Along with others in education and law enforcement, I have raised a number of questions regarding the program’s implementation including those in my recent blog post entitled “Parent Questions: ALICE Training & Teaching Kids to Fight Gunmen.”

I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at a number of news stories highlighting the introduction and subsequent rejection of ALICE training in what appears to be its school district of origin.

ALICE Training thrust into national spotlight in 2006 

ALICE Training for schools appears in news stories to have originated in Burleson, Texas. News stories first highlighting the program in 2006 include:

Burleson schools train students, teachers to fight off intruders: An Associated Press article appearing in the Houston Chronicle described ALICE Training as, “…training students and teachers to fight back with everything from books to scissors,” and, “…training for teachers and students instructs them to disrupt attackers by barraging them with classroom supplies.”

The story says the Burleson Independent School District had trained about 600 teachers and received a $95,000 federal grant from which the training could be continued.  The article indicates an elementary school principal’s husband, a former police officer, developed the training with fellow police officers and military friends.

The principal was quoted as saying: “Just because the gun goes off does not mean you can’t still fight. You can still try to gain control of the situation where you can get the children out.”

A related story was published on msnbc.com:

Students taught to attack if gunman appears: ‘We show them they can win,’ instructor says of Texas school district  The story reports that the program trains students and teachers to “lock onto the attacker’s limbs and use their body weight,” according to Robin Browne, a major in the British Army reserve and an instructor for Response Options, the company providing the training to the Burleson schools. Everyday classroom objects, such as paperbacks and pencils, can become weapons.

The story quotes Brown as saying: “We show them they can win,” he said. “The fact that someone walks into a classroom with a gun does not make them a god. Five or six seventh-grade kids and a 95-pound art teacher can basically challenge, bring down and immobilize a 200-pound man with a gun.”

According to the story: “Among the lessons: Use a belt as a sling for broken bones, and shoelaces make good tourniquets.  Students are also instructed not to comply with a gunman’s orders, and to take him down.”   The article says Browne recommends students and teachers aim for the head.

Terry Grisham, a spokesman for the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department, said he had concerns, though he had not seen details of the program.  “You’re telling kids to do what a tactical officer is trained to do, and they have a lot of guns and ballistic shields,” he was quoted as saying and noting that, “If my school was teaching that, I’d be upset, frankly.”

Others referenced in the story supported the program including the high school principal at Burleson High School.

 Good Morning America also reported on the story:

Texas School District Learning to Fight Back Against School Gunmen.  The GMA story included this quote from long-time national school safety expert Ron Stephens of the National School Safety Center: “When it comes to fighting an attacker even swat teams have a hard time knowing what to do. How can we expect kids to know what to do,” said Stephens.

Stephens also said the child who leads the charge is most vulnerable. “Rushing a gunman with scissors or staplers or a book might cause a gunman to shoot that person on the spot.”

The story went on to say that Browne, the former military instructor, “…concedes that his program of fighting back carries risk. He admits that the first student to swarm an attacker may pay with his or her life. However, he believes the risk may be worth it to save other lives.  “He won’t be able to shoot the fourth, fifth, eighth, twentieth or thirtieth student,” Browne was quoted as saying.

Backlash causes school district to reject ALICE Training

It didn’t take long for the Burleson Independent School District to back down from the ALICE Training component of teaching children to attack armed gunmen.

Multiple versions of an Associated Press story spread nationwide:

School district changes mind on students fighting back.  The article quoted school district spokesman Richard Crummel as saying: ‘‘That was not something we believe in and not something we supported. It wasn’t brought to our attention until they had already done the training.’’

The article also says the district sent home a letter to parents expressing regret for the training and saying that the district did not and would not support teaching students to attack intruders.  It says the letter was signed by all district principals except one, the elementary principal whose husband, a former police officer and instructor at the district’s high school, suggested the training.

The district spokesperson was quoted as saying: ‘‘On a national level, people are calling in and saying bravo for at least looking at other options. On a local level, people are concerned about one thing: how it affects their children.’’

It’s not surprising parents at the local level were (and still should be, in my opinion) concerned about how such training affects their children.

Versions of the AP story ran nationwide including:

Burleson school regrets advising students to attack gunmen

Classes to stop intruder attack are halted: Texas suburban school district ends program teaching to attack a gunman

Schools Reverse on Gunman Defense Tactic

A McClatchy Newspapers article went a bit deeper into the relationships of the company providing the training for the school district and two of the district’s employees: One of the district’s elementary principals and her husband, a former police officer and district high school teacher who was associated with the company providing the training:

School district: Tactical training went a bit too far

District: Teacher’s self-defense tactics went too far

Stories reported that the Response Options company providing the training received between $2,000 to $2,500 to provide the training.

One blogger from Keller, Texas, questioned the school district’s claim they did not know about the program in a blog article entitled Burleson Wimps Out. The blogger also raised issues about reports that the high school teacher associated with the company providing the training had allegedly been “reassigned” and removed from his teaching position.  The blog article indicated this teacher was retaining a lawyer.

Two sides to every story; Original rejection reinforces need for answers to implementation questions 

There are usually two sides to many stories of controversy.  Questions on this story could include:

  • What did the Burleson Independent School District know and not know about the ALICE Training program, and when did they know it?
  • What did the district allow and what, if anything, was done without their knowledge?
  • Did the district treat the elementary principal and her husband, the high school teacher, fairly or as scapegoats when the story caught national attention?

It is not the purpose of this blog to investigate and answer these questions.  The purpose of bringing to light these stories is to highlight the importance of being able to answer tough implementation questions, such as those I have previously raised about ALICE Training, before a program is ever implemented.

One thing is clear:  The ALICE Training program component of teaching children to attack armed intruders was rejected in what appears to be its school district of origin.  And, at a minimum, the program triggered controversy and strong differing opinions on ALICE Training.

Does your school district and law enforcement agency take steps to prevent a local and/or national controversy by thinking through and preparing to answer tough implementation questions about controversial proposed school safety programs?

Ken Trump

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6 thoughts on “Origin & rejection of ALICE Training: Kids fighting armed gunmen

  1. Chuck Hibbert says:

    Well stated Ken. As a grandparent of a special needs child, and school safety professional, I don’t want my grandchildren to “lead the charge” toward an armed gunman. This is the reason it is critical for schools and similar organizations to have a plan that can provide for the care for all children without sending them into the path of a bullet. A.L.I.C.E. may have its place in the adult world, that is may, but it doesn’t have a place in preK-12. Certainly, others will disagree, but let them put their children at the “point position”. I prefer for my grandchildren to follow the directions of an adult who understands the value of locking down a classroom and fundamentals of protecting children.

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Thanks, Chuck. I don’t think there is a question that most ALICE Training advocates are well-intended and believe that this is an enhancement to keeping kids safe. But I think there is a serious disconnect between viewing this type of training as very consistent with a law enforcement and military training school of thought, and recognizing the multitude of unique implementation issues and considerations in attempting to apply it to a child-centered setting. Even then, no one seems to be able to dispute the fact that we would not provide firearms or self-defense type training for law enforcement in a 20-minute or one-hour, one-shot session, but many seem to mistakenly believe a lower standard is acceptable for training non-law enforcement (educators) and children. That, of course, is just one of many implementation issues. And as you stated, we indeed are revisiting the fundamentals nationwide, as well. Ken

  2. Richard Nester says:

    So, the better plan is to sit still under your desk and wait for the shooter to shoot you since you are now an easy target. When the shooter runs out of bullets or targets, then the incident will be over, well before the police can get there to do anything….

    1. Ken Trump says:

      And that has specifically happened how many times in locked down rooms with armed gunmen in K-12 schools?

      ALICE-trained students have successfully attacked and neutralized how many armed gunmen in K-12 schools (when, where, etc.)?

      And the answers to all of the questions raised about ALICE training— still unanswered.

  3. Ryan says:

    You guys are missing the point of the attacking the gunman. Students have been held in lockdown and not allowed to leave the premises of the attack. I.E. Columbine the kids in the library asked the teacher if they should run out the back door to safety and the teacher said stay put under your desk. The majority of the casualties happened in that library. Do some research and see that the program doesn’t propose you have to attack the gunman but use your common sense and run if you are given that OPTION. If you are given no options and the gunman breaches your “barricaded” room you are dead if you stay under your desk. The gunman from Virginia Tech practiced his shooting at the range at targets on the ground. Do you think he didn’t know what the kids would do.

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Thanks for sharing your opinion.

      I’m definitely not missing the point and I have done my research, including reading the Response Options manual. More so, I have also worked with school districts and reviewed what other districts have done or not done in implementing (using the term loosely) ALICE.

      What my research, and more so what ALICE advocates, can’t seem to answer are the implementation questions presented in my various blog articles and web pages. They can’t answer about the implications of a 10 or 20 minutes assembly or video “training” of students to attack armed intruders or the absence of age-appropriate, developmental implications. They can’t answer the questions presented in this blog article or others written.

      To keep repeating the words “OPTION” and “COMMON SENSE” does not answer the implementation questions. Perhaps some law enforcement agencies just tell their officers and SWAT teams to take 20 minutes of self-defense and firearms training their entire career and use “common sense” because they’ll have “options” from there on in?

      ALICE MAY have some application to college/university, but not K-12. Apparently even the Texas school district where the program concept originated abandoned it without implementing the Counter option.

      Thanks again for sharing your opinion.

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