2018-03-09 / Front Page

School safety at forefront

By Allison New
Contributing Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH - Residents, parents and teachers were invited to participate in conversations about school safety at the Cape Elizabeth School Board Workshop, held Tuesday, March 6 at Cape Elizabeth High School. The evening began with a presentation led by the high school’s Assistant Principal Nate Carpenter about the possible implementation of a new lockdown program called ALICE. ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. After the presentation concluded, the floor was opened to residents who had questions and concerns about the program and current school safety and safety protocols.

ALICE is the answer to heightened threats faced by today’s public schools. Most schools still rely on an aging lockdown procedure that was designed in 1970. The current lockdown procedure was developed in southern California when gang violence against schools, such as drive by shootings began in the 1970s. The current procedure consists of locking doors, closing windows, shutting off lights, staying quiet and hiding behind cinder blocks. Since its original implementation there have been no significant changes made to the widely used lockdown protocol.

According the presentation, statistics from a Virginia Tech study show that 98 percent of active shooting events are perpetrated by a single shooter, and that the incident typically lasts between 5 and 9 minutes. Since 2013 there have been more than 200 school shootings, which equates to approximately one school shooting per week. In this study researchers discovered that passive reactions such as hiding in classrooms or under desks resulted in more injuries and fatalities. However, people under attack who moved away from others or attempted to escape the building, were less likely to become targets and became more likely to escape the shooting event. ALICE and its lockdown procedure is designed to get people who are under attack away from the active shooter, and to quickly open lines of communication with law enforcement.

According to the ALICE website, “Each school day, our nation’s schools are entrusted to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for approximately 55 million elementary and secondary students in public and nonpublic schools. Families and communities expect schools to keep their children safe from all threats including human-caused emergencies such as crimes of violence. In collaboration with local government and community stakeholders, schools can take steps to plan and prepare to mitigate these threats. Every school emergency operating procedure should include courses of action that will describe how students and staff can most effectively respond to an active shooter situation to minimize the loss of life, and teach and train on these practices. No single response fits all active shooter situations however, making sure each individual knows his or her options for response and can react decisively will save valuable time.”

Superintendent Howard Colter said officers from the Cape Elizabeth Police Department will attend ALICE training this summer. Colter said while it is important to be prepared for possible emergencies, the district and schools do not want to instill fear in students or residents, and that the odds of anything happening in Cape Elizabeth are very low.

The floor was opened to residents who had questions and comments about the proposed ALICE plan and current school safety protocols.

David Turgelsky of Starboard Drive asked, “How children (particularly younger children), who have questions about school shootings and violence are being reassured in schools and met with age appropriate answers.”

Pond Cove Elementary School Principal Jason Manjourides responded

“Our teachers, guidance personnel and staff have been prepared on how to field questions from children about tragic events. (Staff) does not initiate conversations with the elementary (school) children, but they are ready with age appropriate answers when they come up.”

Another concerned parent, Becky Bronson of Patricia Drive, brought up a point about play dates. She said it has become necessary to question parents and guardians about whether or not they have guns in their homes and if the guns are properly secured before sending her child on play dates.

“It’s almost the same as asking about food allergies,” Bronson added.

As the meeting neared an end parents asked about the safety of high schoolers and middle schoolers who are planning to attend the National Walk Out on March 14. Parents and guardians were reassured that the walk out is being handled with sensitivity and care and students participating will not be faced with disciplinary action. Administrator also said participating students will be supervised for the duration of the event and that the health and security of the students engaging in the walk out is their number one priority.

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