In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook School shooting in Newtown, Conn. that killed 20 elementary school students and six school staff, school districts in Portage County are busy focusing on how to prevent the next one from happening closer to home.
However, many of the county's superintendents agreed that they have already been doing everything they can to ensure the protection of their students and faculty. For the districts, this includes implementing the A.L.i.C.E program in place of the lockdown procedure that schools previously used.
"It basically deals with an active shooter or violent intruder," said Jim Soyars, director of business services at Kent Schools. "A.L.i.C.E takes lockdown and doesn't get rid of it, but enhances it."
The first stage of A.L.i.C.E. is alert, which is a broadcast that notifies staff and students that there is a danger inside the school and where the threat might be so they can decide whether to find an exit or go into the next stage, lockdown.
Once the teachers barricade themselves in the classroom, they go into the third stage of A.L.i.C.E, inform. Soyars said teachers will attempt to communicate with colleagues or school administrators through phone systems or texting to stay aware of what's happening outside the classroom.
The fourth stage, counter, only occurs if a violent intruder breaches a classroom. It teaches students to throw objects at a shooter to distract them and their aim.
"This is more for older students," Soyars said. "We wouldn't expect any of our younger elementary kids to do any kind of counter."
Soyars recently went through an A.L.i.C.E training program where he acted as a student and trainees came into a classroom shooting an airsoft pistol.
"It was really one of the most helpless feelings I've ever had," he said. "Counter is much better than sitting in the corner hoping the police make it in time."
The last stage, evacuate, includes getting students out of the school and directing them to certain rally points close by where they can be reunited with their parents.
Rootstown and Crestwood schools have already had the A.L.i.C.E. program fully implemented in their districts for about two years and think it's a great training tool.
"The idea came from the (Portage County) sheriff's office," said Andrew Hawkins, superintendent of Rootstown Schools. "It's nice to know that when they come on campus if there is an emergency, they know what our students and staff are trained to do so that definitely is a big safety piece for us."
Ravenna Schools Superintendent Dennis Honkala said his district had an introduction to the A.L.i.C.E program in October and will soon make a decision about implementing it.
"It puts the decision-making process in the hands of the teachers and administrators," Honkala said. "This program gives you more choices."
In addition to this new procedure, Portage County Sheriff David Doak said there has been a bigger police presence in schools in the county since the Sandy Hook shooting.
"I encourage the officers to visit the schools, walk through the halls, between calls," Doak said. "Unfortunately, it's a resource issue. It's a problem many counties and police departments face."
Brimfield's police chief, David Oliver, said his department will be installing exterior cameras at the front doors and panic buttons in all of the buildings in the Field School District.
"It's a one-push button that notifies the police department so we can be there as soon as possible," Oliver said.
The department is also checking on the cost for installing bullet-proof doors in the classrooms.
"If there's an instance where a teacher has to seek shelter, I'd like to see that they can have a barrier that's worthwhile between the threat and them," he said.
Regardless of what each district's procedures and protections are, everyone agreed that they are always sharing the best practices and looking for ways to increase security.
"If our students don't feel safe and our staff doesn't feel safe then nothing else matters," Honkala said. "That's always our top priority."
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