INDIANAPOLIS – An active-shooter training at an Indiana school that left teachers with welts, bruises and abrasions has raised eyebrows and questions about how this training should be done.
There is little agreement in the field about what the right approach to active-shooter training is – some experts suggest traditional lockdowns are most effective, and in some methods, teachers simply observe while police role-play – but they generally do not involve shooting teachers with an air-powered device, called an airsoft gun, that was used in this incident.
Teachers at Meadowlawn Elementary School in Monticello were supposed to be receiving what is called ALICE training, an “options-based” approach that encourages students and teachers to be proactive in their response to an active-shooter and teaches tactics that include rushing a shooter in some situations.
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Barbara Deardorff, an official with the Indiana State Teachers Association, represents 16 school districts, including the Twin Lakes district and Meadowlawn Elementary, and is familiar with the active-shooter training that teachers receive.
“I’ve worked with teachers in other districts who have gone through ALICE, and this did not happen,” she said. “This is not the normal practice.”
Some methods teach people to flee, hide or fight
The Ohio-based ALICE Training Institute offers training for different organizations across the country, including schools, police, businesses, higher education institutions and places of worship. ALICE is an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate.
This model, and others like it, purport to give students and teachers options in an active-shooter scenario. They’re encouraged to evacuate the school when possible, hide in locked-down classrooms when not and to fight back against the shooter in some way if faced with them – by throwing things or even rushing the attacker.
A common approach to teaching this is for law enforcement familiar with ALICE or other programs to come into schools and provide in-person training, as was the case at Meadowlawn. It can be local police departments or sheriff’s offices.
While this is a common method, it may not be the best approach, said Morgan Ballis, a school safety consultant who advocates for options-based approaches and is an ALICE trainer.
“They were training them like they would train other law enforcement,” he said.
He said the training done with the Meadowlawn teachers sounds like what ALICE trainers receive but wasn’t intended to be passed on to teachers. Reality-based training is important, he said, but trainers need to differentiate the lessons for their audience.
“If we are physically or emotionally creating training scars, then we’re not going to meet the training objectives,” Ballis said.
In State Police approach, teachers observe while officers role-play
The Indiana State Police, which recommends an expanded version of the popular Run, Hide, Fight program, also offers in-school training sessions. It includes slide-show and video presentations and discussion. Spokesman Sgt. John Perrine said the department also offers live-scenario training sessions, if requested, but officers do the role-playing while teachers observe.
State police officers do not use airsoft guns or fire any projectiles, but they do use a handgun designed to fire blank rounds.
“The purpose of our scenario is simply to expose teachers and staff to the sounds of gunfire in the building, as well as the smells associated with gun powder,” Perrine said.
The live scenario sessions are generally reserved for schools, but state police also offer active-shooter training to business, churches and other groups. Since 2015, they have done nearly 1,200 presentations across the state to various groups.
White County Sheriff Bill Brooks, whose agency led the Meadowlawn training, said the department has been doing active-shooter training in schools for years. After learning that teachers were upset by the use of the airsoft gun, Brooks said, the department is no longer using the device with teachers.
Teachers union seeks to end projectile-shooting during training
The Indiana State Teachers Association is seeking to prohibit the practice of shooting projectiles at teachers in these training sessions. A representative from the organization appealed to lawmakers to add that language to a bill earlier this week.
The organization does not oppose options-based training like ALICE or what the state police offer – just the way the training in Meadowlawn was done.
“We don’t demolish a building to teach teachers and staff members how to prepare for a tornado drill,” said Keith Gambill, ISTA vice president. “We understand how horrific that instance is.
“We just think this was a step too far in this training.”
Gambill said the decision about what type of training is most appropriate should be a local decision. What works best in one district may not in another, he said.
Traditional lockdown methods are widely used
The popularly of these training programs – ALICE, Run, Hide, Fight and others like them – is on the rise, but the majority of schools still employ the traditional lockdown model, said Ken Trump, a school safety consultant in Ohio and critic of the options-based approaches.
In a lockdown, teachers and students lock their doors, turn out the lights, get out of the line-of-sight of windows and doors and stay quiet. The goal, Trump said, is to make it look like the room is empty.
“There are shooters who have gone past a locked-down classroom and didn’t know people were in there,” he said.
Most of these incidents happen quickly, Trump said, and shooters are not going to spend time trying to get into a locked room. They’re looking for easy targets, he said.
Instead of spending time on options-based approaches, Trump said, schools should be practicing their lockdown drills. He suggests holding them at different times of day – during lunch or when students are moving between classes – as a reasonable way to make schools as safe and prepared as possible.
“They’re learning unproven, questionable practices but haven’t done the basics,” he said.
Follow Arika Herron on Twitter: @ArikaHerron.