Maplewood Salon Schools / Kids South Orange

LETTER: To Protect Children from Violence in Schools, We Can Do Better Than ALICE

Dear Dr. Ficarra and BOE members,

We are parents in the South Orange-Maplewood School District [SOMSD] and volunteers for gun violence prevention. We were each spurred to become active in this effort because of school shootings, starting with Columbine and Sandy Hook, and we became active as a local organized group after a student brought a gun to Maplewood Middle School in 2015. We have experience teaching parents how to reduce access to guns to mitigate the likelihood of children coming in harm’s way.

We have closely followed the development of policies and procedures regarding gun violence in schools on the national, state and local level. We are pleased that SOMSD has retained a Director of Security and we look forward to facilities and procedural changes that will increase security in our schools.

When we learned that Dr. Shea would be proposing to bring the ALICE training program to our district, we attempted to “block out the noise” of controversy and learn as much about school security programs and active shooter drills as we could, in order to form an independent judgement based on our understanding of the causes of school violence and on the best available information about how to respond to it.

As people steeped in gun violence prevention, we oppose bringing the ALICE program to our school district and we support more comprehensive training programs that address many hazardous situations, including but not limited to active-shooter training. We also support strengthening security through a lock-down emergency notification system and facilities improvements.

ALICE is Not the Answer

Our research and analysis leads us to conclude that ALICE is not the answer to protecting our children from gun violence in schools. We urge you not to approve the ALICE program and to engage our district in an all-hazards approach to scenario based training, which will be more effective in preparing our administrators, teachers and students for safety in violent situations in school—while not doing its own type of harm.

Our primary objection to ALICE is its lack of proven effectiveness. Please see this research paper in the January 2018 issue of the industry journal Security Management, published by the American Society for Industrial Security International. Author Michael Dorn conducted rigorous evaluations which showed that “participants who were provided with options-based active shooter programs [such as ALICE] had lower scores” on their reactions to simulations of violent incidents “than those who had not completed any type of training.”

ALICE training conditions people to counter. Its proponents will say that it provides options and that counter is the last option. But studies show that people who have had the training are conditioned to counter. And in the vast majority of school violence situations, that is the wrong thing to do. So while we are busy training for a narrow set of active shooter situations which are highly unlikely to occur, we are actually un-training ourselves in the skills we will need in most school violence situations.

Here are some situations—much more likely to occur—in which ALICE training will not only be useless but will be harmful and could cause more violence, injuries and loss of life:

  • A drunk, angry parent with a knife
  • Parents in conflict at drop-off, one has a gun
  • An angry ex-spouse of a teacher
  • A vehicle attack (ALICE does not teach reverse-evacuation which would be needed in this situation)
  • An opioid overdose or someone caught using opioids who becomes violent
  • An acid attack
  • A suicidal teenager with a gun

Not only does ALICE not prepare us for these situations, but its training overwhelms other options and pre-disposes people to counter, which can cause much more harm to everyone in these situations.

Think about our district’s brush with guns in schools, when a student at MMS who was in a conflict with other students brought a gun to school. Had the administrators and teachers had ALICE training, they may have reacted wrongly and caused harm.

Other Problems with ALICE

Emotional Manipulation

The arguments for using ALICE are fear-based and emotion-based. Listen to the way arguments for ALICE are crafted. First, there is the present-tense description of an active shooter incident, as if the shooter is outside the door right at that moment. Now you’re scared. Then, the presenter will tell you with certainty that the ALICE training worked to prevent loss of life in multiple active shooter incidents. This can be stated—but it cannot be proven. (Active shooter incidents are very complex, as are witness testimonies and as are police investigations. Anyone who tells you they understand an active shooter incident soon after it occurred is trying to sell you something.) Now that they’ve convinced you that ALICE has prevented a school shooting, they’ll tell you that they just want to protect your children, and that’s why you need to have the ALICE program.

Our country is in the grip of a panic from which gun manufacturers and companies like ALICE are profiting. Gun violence is a real threat and a real public health crisis due to the lack of sensible gun regulations in our country. We need to protect our children in their schools. Submitting to an emotion-based pitch in which someone offers an easy answer does not protect our children and it may actually make them more vulnerable. Instead, parents calls for safer schools should be answered with a rational, research-based public health approach.

Lack of Fidelity

ALICE is implemented differently in every district where it is used. For example, an 8th grader in Summit told us that during an ALICE drill, her class votes on whether to evacuate or lock-down. Dr. Shea assured us that our district would not do that. But if each district can implement ALICE however it likes, then you lose the fidelity to the training program. Then what is it, really? It is a loose set of guidelines whose implementation depends on who is doing the training and can end up with ridiculous outcomes.

In addition, Dr. Shea has said that his doctoral student will be doing a research study on teacher perceptions of safety due to the ALICE training. A study would require total fidelity to the ALICE program in order to have validity. The “Counter” element will need to be fully implemented or the study won’t be valid. Therefore, Dr. Shea will not be able to pick and choose which aspects of the program to implement.

Other Potential Harm

In a phone call with Michael Dorn of Safe Havens International, we learned that injuries have taken place during ALICE training and that several school districts and police departments are being sued as a result (read here and here). It may also be difficult to get insurance to cover injuries resulting from ALICE training.

The ALICE training, implemented with fidelity, will teach children that it is reasonable to take actions that could harm them when applied in other scenarios which are infinitely more likely to take place, such as domestic violence situations, fire, and crime in the home or neighborhood. We want our children to be empowered to do the smart thing in an emergency.

The National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of School Resource Officers collaborated on a Best Practices white paper for active shooter and school violence training and drills, to ensure that the social-emotional health of staff and students is considered and protected. If you read the document carefully, it seems to us that by the time all of the requirements are met, you won’t really be doing ALICE. Although the paper’s authors got input from the developer of ALICE, the requirements—which we must meet—are such that they nearly preclude the kind of training ALICE offers.

Conclusion

Not only do we believe that ALICE is not the answer for active shooter training, it’s our considered opinion that engaging in ALICE training will weaken our ability to be empowered to handle many violent and unsafe situations that could possibly arise. We think it will do more harm than good. We recommend the district pursue an all-hazards approach to scenario based training, which would include active shooter training as one of the possible hazards as well as preparing us for many other contingencies. This type of training will be practical, empowering to staff and students and effective in more situations. Safe Havens International, a non-profit, is a world-class provider of such training and we urge you to consider their program.

Sincerely,

Mara Lander

Rachel Fisher

Malia Herman

David Herman

Reshma Ketkar

Rachel Goldman

Heather Saslovsky

Kristin Saslovsky

Kim Ranney

Kimberly Miller

Kim Kassnove

Christine Olson

Jill Ryan

Caroline O’Hare

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