Do schools, police mislead parents on ALICE training? Students attack armed gunmen

Posted by on November 13, 2012

Some schools and police are teaching students to attack armed gunmen. But are they soft-pedaling the program and misleading parents in the process?

A.L.I.C.E. stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. The “counter” component of teaching school students to throw objects at armed intruders and to physically attack them is being question by many experienced educators and safety professionals.

However, A.L.I.C.E. training is being promoted in some law enforcement circles and schools as “enhanced lockdown procedures.” Given teaching students to attack armed gunmen is objectionable to many parents, how the program is being described raises questions as to whether A.L.I.C.E. training is being soft-pedaled  in a misleading manner to parents who do not take a closer look and ask questions.

For example, in the Sycamore Community Schools in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area:

  • In a February 25, 2011, letter to parents on A.L.I.C.E. training, the superintendent and two principals never make any direct reference to the “Counter” component of ALICE or that this program component calls for teaching students to attack armed gunmen.  Instead, they refer to it as “additional training on how to respond to threatening situations” and “presentations will strengthen your child’s awareness of their safety and well-being.” However, district officials provided a “Participation Waiver” for parents who chose to exclude their child from the training.
  • The Sycamore High School PTO meeting minutes for March 9, 2012 (ALICE Training in Sycamore High School PTO meeting minutes) documents in the Principal’s Report section an explanation to parents on the A.L.I.C.E. program. The minutes list A.L.I.C.E. as Avoid, Lockdown, Information, Communicate, Evade. It also says that, “Reviewed this concept and training with the students during the Lockdown drill The concept is what to after a lockdown takes place. How to be proactive to be able to get out of the building or reach other safe spots rather than just sitting a waiting.”  Interestingly, the standard “Counter” component of A.L.I.C.E. training is replaced in this description to parents with “Communicate” — an inaccurate explanation of the A.L.I.C.E. acronym.

While the district affords an evening workshop on the program for parents, what about the majority of parents who likely would not attend and would never know if the “counter” component of teaching their kids to attack armed gunmen is part of the district’s plan?

And if the program was simply on how to “strengthen your child’s awareness of their safety and well-being” without teaching students to attack armed intruders, why would parents need a “Participation Waiver” to opt-out?

A similar observation can be found in a letter to Kankakee Valley High School parents in Indiana (see ALICE parent letter) that refers to A.L.I.C.E. as “enhanced the lockdown procedures.”  The “Counter” component of A.L.I.C.E. is described as “Apply skills to barricade, and if necessary, distract, confuse and gain control.” It fails to more clearly and accurately describe “Counter” as what it really is: “Teaching your child to attack an armed gunman.”

The letter goes on to say, “In NO WAY are we asking or teaching our students or staff to make any attempt to subdue an armed gunman outside of their secure area. However, we will provide them with options that if faced with a life or death situation, can be applied to greatly enhance their chance of survival. These options include escaping, barricading the door, and protecting oneself by any means necessary should an armed intruder enter the room.”

“Any means necessary”??? Translated: “We’re teaching your kids to throw objects and attack armed gunmen.”

Parents may not be the only people not provided with full disclosure and transparency on the “Counter” component of A.L.I.C.E. training in their districts.

In Canton, Massachusetts, school board chairman John Bonnanzio was quoted in the Boston Globe as asking, “Is this age-appropriate?” His questions arose after a reporter questioned the program’s implementation in his district, which he says was something the board was “a little behind the information curve on all of this time.” Translated: It sounds like the board didn’t know the full details of the program.

A closer look into the origin and history of the A.L.I.C.E. training program shows that the program came under intense scrutiny when it gained international attention in 2006. In fact, the school district in Burleson, Texas, where the program originated dropped the “Counter” component of teaching students to attack armed gunmen after media coverage and questioning of the concept. The concept disappeared off the radar screen but has been recently resurrected, only this time with softer descriptions such as “enhanced lockdown procedures.”

If schools feel confident enough to take on the potential safety and liability risks associated with A.L.I.C.E. training, shouldn’t they be fully transparent with parents and not sugarcoat their description of how school and police officials are authorizing students to be taught to attack armed gunmen (often in one brief hour or less training session)?

Ken Trump

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7 thoughts on “Do schools, police mislead parents on ALICE training? Students attack armed gunmen

  1. Greg Hennecke says:

    You seem to be attacking the way the school represented the ALICE training to the parents…or are you attacking ALICE, or both?

    What exactly do you teach a student or school staff to do if a killer is entering their school/classroom? They can’t get out, they have no where to go….what do you teach them to do?

    Most schools teach everyone to hide under a desk or take cover somewhere. This makes them a soft/easy target.

    I’m curious as to what you instruct schools to do?

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Dear Greg,

      Thanks for reading the blog.

      I am not “attacking” the school district or ALICE. I do pose a number of questions and concerns about both the implementation of ALICE and, in this post, how it is represented to parents by school officials.

      I would NEVER instruct schools to provide ALICE or similar training. See prior blog posts and my web site for extensive questions and my positions on ALICE.

      Schools have many established best practices for prevention, intervention, school security, and emergency preparedness . ALICE is not one of them. Fortunately, the vast majority of schools do NOT provide ALICE training and a number have stated they would never consider doing so.

      Thanks again for reading the blog. Keep following as there will be more future postings including on ALICE.



  2. Greg Hennecke says:

    Thank you for your response, but you did not answer my question. What do you teach or instruct students and school staff to do when the killer is entering their room? Please don’t evade my question. Given a scenario where all policies and practices have not worked and a determined killer is entering the room, what is your advice and/or technique for dealing with this specific scenario?

    I know/understand your position on ALICE, I’m asking you what you teach/instruct in the above scenario. Looking forward to your answer on my specific question.
    Thank you.

  3. John Henderson says:

    Sorry to interrupt but I just wanted to add my thoughts. The whole idea is to prevent the killer from entering the room by doing the lockdown properly. Once a heavily armed killer enters a room full of people, there is not much you can do. As soon as you do anything, the firepower will be brought down upon you. Schools need strategies to prevent entry and/or delay the killer until law enforcement arrives. Once the police are there, the killer usually shoots himself and it’s over.

    I don’t understand why so many people think engaging the killer on equal terms is the answer. If you try to attack a heavily armed shooter, he will shoot you because that is what he is there to do. The answer is not tit for tat, it is prevention and looking much deeper than shooting back as way to handle it. Why is there so much less violence in other developed western societies? Maybe there is something to be learned from them?

  4. James Agee says:

    I can’t see just sitting there awaiting death. I want my wife to try something in her building if faced with what Ms. Soto had to face. I told her to fight, scratch, throw, claw, whatever to go after the guy. She will go back to school next week with her own fire extinguisher so she’ll have something to spray at the guy.

    When faced with certain death or perceived certain death (hey a man with a gun who has shot or is waving it around is perception enough for me), I always say fight back. I have been working in police work for over 24 years. Police officers have the right to use deadly force in defense of self or others if faced with a man with a gun that could only be remotely threatening. What makes us so special? Shouldn’t citizens have that same right of self defense? I just don’t see how attacking the attacker will make things worse?

    I don’t think anyone is advocating attacking an unarmed person. But a person whom is shooting, stabbing, or otherwise harming another needs to be stopped and those already on scene are better able to do it as my comrades with badges aren’t there yet.

    About 15 years ago a man walked in to a crowded Pizza Hut one evening with an SKS rifle with a fully loaded magazine. He confronted his estranged wife. Before he could do anything, a 17 year old kid (good size, over 6’00 200 lbs) grabbed him along with 4 others (two being female) and pretty much kicked his behind. One of the ladies wore the guy out while the 17 kid had him in a strong bear hug. They disarmed him, moving the rifle well away from everyone to a corner. I arrived about a minute from time of dispatch, about a minute 30 seconds from actual call. Altercation took less than 30 seconds, so at least 2 minutes from when the offender walked in to the place. Had no action been taken, about 20 people were at risk. The offender continued with threats until I dropped him off at the jail.

    Don’t tell me this is different because it’s not a school. I am just glad he had a rifle because if he’d had a handgun, no one sees him as a threat until AFTER the shot is fired. There are numerous examples of staff attacking a gunman. One I can remember off hand was in Oregon where a wounded student counterattacked and aided by several more students subdued Kip Kinkel. This reduced the deaths in the views of most that were there.

  5. John Henderson says:

    My 26 years in policing and ten years in the military leaves me with a different opinion about mass shootings. I appreciate your scenario, but that was a targeted victim, not a mass shooting situation. I have been in live mass-shooting scenarios with paint rounds flying around, and have seen and been able to analyze who gets hit and who doesn’t. In the mass shooting situations, it’s the moving people and persons with weapons that are the targets. Who got shot at the movie theatre after the shooter initially opened up? the ones trying to escape. Mass shooters are looking for targets and they head for target rich environments. If you tell a student or teacher to attack the shooter, the shooter is going to mow that person down in a hail of gunfire as the movement will attract attention. When victims see opportunity to attack, nothing says they can’t try and some will risk their lives and become heroes, but for the state to sanction this and try to train non-police or non-military people to do it will certainly get average people killed. If students and teachers harbor weapons and start attacking, what does law enforcement do when they get there? This seriously impedes the trained responder’s ability to know who is who and takes away the responder’s ability to shoot at the shooter. It’s a rapidly evolving, extremely tense situation where officers have to find the guy with the gun and take him out. Confusing the issue means the officers can’t shoot as they may hit a student or a teacher.

    This is the wrong focus anyway. The question is why are mass shootings occurring and for government to go after the causes, and seek to prevent. Why are other modern, industrialized countries not having the same degree of trouble? These differences must be explored. Reasons such as the easy availability of automatic assault rifles with 30 round magazines to the general public, and the non-institutional treatment or non-treatment of serious mental illness. It seems everyone wants to blame the serious mental illness of attackers for why they went out and shot up public places and schools. If that is the case, then why are these people walking the streets with the ability to acquire military-style assault weapons? I feel strongly that the causes should be mitigated, not the result of the shooter going over the edge.

  6. Det Sgt Lane Crawley says:

    While I agree with you that teaching students to attack an armed shooter is wrong there must be more than “lockdown” procedures taught to school officials and students. A barrier that cannot be penetrated is great but most schools do not have such a thing. The only way to stay alive is to put time and distance between children and the shooter. (Think of elementary age children) evacuation away from the shooter to a populated public place may be the best procedure. Remember “lockdown” only works if the barrier cannot be penetrated. I’m a 30yr police trainer, no door is fullproof against a person committed to killing anyone he comes in contact with. I must ask what is “Advanced Lockdown procedures”?

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