Fairmont students react to A.L.I.C.E.; another drill takes place this week

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Photo: Alix Jordan

Security Guard David Fuchs sits at a desk by Fairmont’s main doors and helps visitors who are coming into the school.

On Thursday, March 15, 2014, Fairmont students and staff will take some time during sixth period to consider what options are available for evacuating the high school in the event of an active shooter in the building.

The drill, required by the state, follows a November drill in which students and staff focused on blockade options as part of the new security procedures in place at schools across the country since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012.

This week’s drill will give students the chance to learn more about the A.L.I.C.E. procedure. A.L.I.C.E. stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. It’s a procedure that is replacing the lockdown-only policy previously in place in Kettering. That policy mandated that teachers follow a set procedure for locking themselves and students into classrooms during a threat to school safety.

The A.L.I.C.E. program, however, provides teachers and students with a variety of safety options and the power to choose the option that best caters to their individual situation. Those options still include the lockdown procedure, but other choices include hiding, evacuating, barricading the doors, distracting the shooter, and even charging the shooter.

“I feel safer with A.L.I.C.E., rather than sitting against the wall and hiding,” said Fairmont sophomore Sydney Johnson. “I feel like we’re actually trying to defend ourselves now.”

Many students like the new hands-on system, but some question if it’s effective in various parts of the school. “Some of the classrooms aren’t equipped to fully use the system. If you don’t have windows or you’re not close to an exit, the only option you have is to defend and attack if needed,” said Johnson.

But Dr. Hank Jackoby, East Unit principal, explains that A.L.I.C.E. provides options to use because there will always be variables in any situation.

“Every room is going to have different escape potential,” Jackoby said. “There have been other situations where kids have gotten to safety in rooms without windows. We don’t ask kids to fight back, but if they feel that’s their only option, we aren’t going to stop them. We try to give them different tactics to distract the attacker and direct his attention away.”

Fairmont junior Olivia Davis says she has trust in the faculty to handle the situation. “I think the teachers trained and practiced to learn what to do in case something would happen, and I trust them and the people in my class to work together and protect everyone,” she said.

But where do Fairmont students feel is the safest place to be in case of an attack? “I would want to be at the end of a unit hallway by where an exit is,” said Johnson.

Davis’ idea is based on the best places to hide. “I would want to be in the Orchestra room,” she said. “It’s a big room with a lot of places to hide and smaller rooms within it.”

During the November drill, students also learned that, in case of an attack, they are supposed to go to Roush Stadium after evacuating the school. That decision surprised some.

“I don’t think going to Roush would be a good idea,” said Fairmont sophomore Erin Frye. “More often than not, the shooter would be a student and they’d know that’s where everyone is going. I’d probably go to the shopping mall up the street if I had to.”

Jackoby also tried to clarify this point, explaining that Fairmont plans to use Roush Stadium as a rally point. “The key to a rally point is to go to it whenever you feel safe. Maybe you don’t feel safe for two hours, but A.L.I.C.E. doesn’t say to go directly. It says to go when you feel safe.”

Reaction to other changes

In addition to introducing A.L.I.C.E. procedures, the district has made a number of changes at Fairmont that are designed to improve security at the sprawling campus. These include exterior doors being locked at 8:30 a.m. each day, designated parking spaces, and the construction of a gate to control access to the courtyard. Student reaction to these changes has been mixed.

The new courtyard gate is one item in question. “I think the gate is a good idea,” said Johnson. “It keeps people out of an easy place to get in.”

Fairmont sophomore Zachary Janow questions the cost of the gate versus the benefit. “I think the gate was a good idea,” he said. “But it seems like it was too expensive.” Ken Lackey, director of the Business Services Department for Kettering City Schools, said he was unable to give a cost for the construction of the gate alone, as it was included in the cost of all the other security upgrades in the district.

Before the locking of all exterior doors, which actually went into effect last year, students could cut through to the North Parking lot and other outdoor exits to get to classes faster and avoid the crowds that form in the unit lobbies. Now that isn’t an option.

“I’ve gotten used to the door changes now,” said Fairmont sophomore Kelsey Chapin. “But when they first started, I had trouble getting to the class I used to get through when I cut through North Parking lot. The locked doors caused a lot of bad traffic in the units, which made it harder for everyone.”

While change can be difficult, students and staff seem to be adjusting to the new norm.

“I think some of the changes are a good idea,” said Fairmont sophomore Ashley Schoenthal, who tries to stay optimistic about Fairmont’s changes. “But they have been pretty hard to get used to all at once.”