A man with a gun enters a darkened classroom and begins shooting with mechanical precision: “Pop! Pop! Pop!”
None of the students move or resist, and within seconds the gunman has pulled the trigger more than 30 times. It is a virtual blood bath — and fortunately, just a demonstration — but it spotlights what could happen if an assailant armed with semiautomatic firearms and a will to kill gains entry into a school full of unsuspecting students and staff.
Eric DaCosta, a New Bedford police officer playing the role of the gunman, soon flicks on the lights and announces: “Basically, right now, you’re dead. Why? Because we’ve trained you to just sit there.”
The workshop presentation, part of a professional training seminar hosted by the Franklin Police Department over two days last month, encouraged teaching students and school staff to resist an armed attacker in certain situations, a concept at the heart of a controversial safety protocol recently adopted by school officials in Canton.
The session drew police and school officials from a number of Greater Boston communities, including Concord, Framingham, Franklin, Wellesley, and Westborough, as well as from New Hampshire and Connecticut.
More than 300 school districts nationwide have adopted the protocol known as ALICE — an acronym for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate. It emphasizes making active decisions, such as barricading classroom doors, coordinating on-the-spot evacuations, and, if all else fails, throwing objects and using body weight to topple a shooter.
Most US school districts use a traditional lockdown procedure that involves sounding an alert, locking classroom doors, turning out the lights, hiding in a far corner of the classroom, and remaining calm and quiet.
Now some area law enforcement officials are trying to persuade their school districts to consider using the ALICE protocol, though educators in several towns said they are not ready to commit.
In Concord, Police Chief Barry R. Neal said his department is reaching out to school officials to explore the program. “We’re reviewing our procedures with the school administration,” Neal said. “We are looking at it as a better response option for the police and the faculty and the students.”
The school system’s superintendent, Diana F. Rigby, said district officials have started learning about the protocol, including how, when, and why to use it. Any future decision about adopting ALICE in the Concord schools would involve discussion among police, administrators, and the School Committee, she said.
“We are just in the initial stages of discussion. At this point, we need a lot more information,” said Rigby.
Wellesley Superintendent David Lussier said the ALICE protocol is relatively unknown on the “school side” of the community, but not for long. He said Wellesley officers attended the Franklin workshop, and will provide an overview for Lussier and members of his leadership team.
“We are looking forward to a presentation from the Wellesley Police Department to learn more about the ALICE protocol,” he said. “At this point, we are not committing either way to what we may do. We are still in a discovery mode.”
Franklin’s superintendent, Maureen Sabolinski, said her district would be willing to consider using the ALICE protocol, but there has been no formal discussion about “going in a different direction at this time.”
“We would explore any avenue to make sure our students are safe. If police make an overture, we will certainly look at it,” she said.
Sabolinski added that two school administrators attended the recent ALICE workshop, which used Franklin High School as a training site for an afternoon session, she said. The staff members will report back at length during an upcoming team meeting, she said.
Integrating the new approach into traditional school policies requires gaining public support, which can be a slow process, according to a Canton police officer, Detective Chip Yeaton, who is also president of the Massachusetts Juvenile Police Officer’s Association and a school resource officer.
On Thursday, Yeaton will appear before the Canton School Committee to answer questions about the protocol. One of the leaders in a growing movement of police officers who believe the protocol can save lives, Yeaton advocated for the Canton system to adopt ALICE, and has helped train about half of the district’s staff.
Yeaton said he decided to push Canton as a role model and inspire a regional trend, stating in an earlier interview, “Nobody wants to be the first to implement it. But I don’t care. I’m not waiting just because other school districts are not getting it.” Continued...