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Stoughton School Officials, Police Support ALICE School Shooter Response Program

Stoughton School officials and members of the Stoughton Police recently took part in ALICE school shooter response training, hosted by the Norfolk County DA. The program encourages a more flexible response to an active shooter situation.

You wouldn't stay in a building that was filling up with smoke, so why do so if there was an active shooter in the building, Stoughton Police Chief Paul Shastany reasons.

The common practice has been for a school to go into lockdown if there was an active shooter in the building, but the more passive approach might not be as effective as a more proactive defense, supporters of the ALICE program say.

ALICE - an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate - was developed by Greg Crane, a former SWAT police officer, and Lisa Crane a school principal. 

Chief Shastany spoke to the Stoughton School Committee about the ALICE program and its benefits at the Committee's Feb. 12 meeting. Like, the Chief, it's something the Stoughton Schools support as well.  

The week before his appearance at the School Committee meeting, Shastany, Stoughton Police Executive Officer Robert Devine, Stoughton Police Juvenile Detective Roger Hardy and Stoughton Police School Resource Officer Robert Kuhn joined Stoughton Schools Superintendent Marguerite Rizzi and Stoughton High Principal Julie Miller attended an ALICE training session Feb. 5-6, hosted by Norfolk County District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey.

The training, attended by more than 100 across the county, was provided by Response Options, a Texas-based school safety firm, according to a release from the District Attorney's office. 

“The strict lockdown model has become almost a default protocol to any violent intruder incident,” District Attorney Morrissey said in a press release. 

“But there is a growing conversation nationally whether a more flexible response, including evacuating the building, barricading the doors and other actions, might not save lives. We wanted to bring Norfolk County schools and police into that conversation, so that they can weigh all of the options available to keep their students safe,” DA Morrissey continued.

Shastany said ALICE is designed to remove children from danger. While there are other high risk, low frequency emergencies schools may deal with, ALICE focuses on an active shooter situation. 

In an active shooter scenario, Shastany said it is important to alert others where there is a problem (through an intercom, for example). He said it is important to impede an intruder's entrance into a room by using something in the room to secure it - even a belt. This is part of the lockdown strategy of ALICE. 

The "I" is for inform - identify the intruder; keep those in the building informed. Place information in the people's hands, Shastany said, which helps to avoid giving those in the building a hopeless feeling of the unknown. Information circulating in the building will also make its way to police and better inform them of the situation at hand.

The "C" - counter by means of distracting, disorienting and disarming - is the most controversial aspect Shastany said. Going under a desk is not enough, Shastany stressed. Throw the objects around you at the intruder - the shooter cannot help but defend himself, Shastany said.

Finally, "E" - evacuate - get out and get far away. Get away from where there is an area of concern, Shastany said. The common question is what if something happens [to the students] when they evacuate? But Shastany counters with what would happen if they stayed in the room with the shooter?

During the ALICE training the 1999 mass casualty shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado is discussed and how a group of students "needlessly died" by going against their natural instincts and remaining in the school's library when they could have fled through the library's exit, Shastany explains. 

The School Committee was in support of the ALICE program. Echoing Chief Shastany, School Committee Chair Deborah Sovinee said "Fires in schools are extremely rare, but we still have fire drills," emphasizing that it was important to "be prepared." 

Dr. Rizzi said the program "optimizes the possibility of survival." 

She wants there to be some kind of forum with parents to discuss the ALICE program in greater detail before the program is rolled out and any faculty or students are trained (the training is age-appropriate).  

Dr. Rizzi stressed that the Stoughton school district's crisis team "spends a great deal of time preparing for all sorts of issues" and they have not lost sight of any other potential incidents. Stoughton School officials were already looking into the ALICE program prior to the deadly school shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT this past December, but as a result of that tragedy, the importance of school security and dealing with school shooting incidents has been heightened. 

Similarly, “The District Attorney’s Office hosted a similar training the month before the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut last year, but obviously that event has put a new focus on the issue,” Morrissey said in a release.

His office used drug forfeiture money to finance this most recent two-day training in February. 

The classroom training was held in donated seminar space at the headquarters of the Bank of Canton and included an analysis of 25 years of school shooting incidents, and which actions helped end the incidents more quickly with fewer lives lost, and which protocols appeared to be counter-productive, according to a release from the DA's office.

Live-action demonstration was held in the now-vacant Avery School in Dedham. 

“Our towns are all looking at their safety protocols," Morrissey said in a release. "I think it is important that as we do that, we base our decisions on solid research, lessons learned from previous incidents, and the widest array of information we can collect.”

In the release, Morrissey said he hopes the information provided can help towns with future planning. 

“Every community should have a plan, but that plan must be developed at the local level, with input from the police and school community,” he said.

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