Two and a half months ago, Kent City Schools officials, representatives from local law enforcement and city officials met with members of the community to discuss the planned implementation of ALICE, a national safety initiative being put in place across the entire district to improve building safety and emergency response.
Friday morning, the school shooting in Newton, Conn. not only resonated across the United States, but also reinforced to both district officials and community members of why ALICE is not only necessary, but also vital to the safety of students, teachers and staff members at each of the district's schools.
"What happened in Connecticut is a horrible tragedy and you hope no community ever has to deal with that," said Kent City Schools Director of Business Services Jim Soyars, who has been certified as an ALICE trainer and started the district-wide training for staff during an in-service day session on Election Day. "It's easy to say that happened somewhere else in the nation, it's not going to happen in our community, but it only takes one person to decide they're going to do something."
Soyars likened preparation for an active shooter incident like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School or last year's school shooting at Chardon High School to wearing a seat belt while riding in a car.
"Most days you'll get in your car and drive and you may not need it, but that one day you do, you're thankful you have it on," he added.
The training process began in October when teachers, secretaries, support staff and transportation employees attended the training session at the high school auditorium. The second phase of staff training will take place during a half-day of in-service time in January, at which point high school and junior high teachers and staff members will go through their own training session.
Part of the training process is answering questions and addressing concerns for trainees and making sure they are comfortable with what ALICE directs them to do in the event of an active shooting incident.
"We're making sure we answer all staff questions and we want to make sure they're totally comfortable," said assistant principal Brian Bacthel, one of the staff members at Roosevelt High School who has worked on bringing the program to the district. "We are trying to get a sounding board for all of the staff and sensitive to their concerns."
ALICE, which stands for "Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate," uses more active measures to combat an active shooter in the event that attempts to evacuate or avoid contact with the shooter inside the school do not work. Once all district employees have undergone the training and are knowledgeable about ALICE, Soyers and those assisting him with the project will move on to training students. No official dates have been set yet, but Soyers says the plan is to have the training completed and ALICE fully in place by the end of the school year.
"I envision bring everyone into the gym, getting them together and presenting it to them. Obviously it will different for fourth and fifth graders than it will be for kindergarteners, or for junior high or high school students," Soyers continued.
One concern that has been expressed, both by parents who attended the informational meeting and those Soyers has heard from since then, is that students may be put in harm's way by engaging in active attempts to disrupt and disorient a shooter.
"What I've heard before is that we're putting kids in danger by having them do something, not nothing, but I feel like we're empowering them," Soyers said.
Part of implementing ALICE will be selecting rally points outside each school where students will be taken in the event of a shooting in which they are able to flee the building, which is another reason the process will take some time to complete.
According to Soyers, members of the Portage County Sheriff's Department informed him during a recent meeting that several other districts in Portage County are planning on implementing the program for their buildings.