By LeAnn R. Ralph
ELK MOUND — It’s a brilliant strategy, really, because how would you react if someone hit you in the face with a stream of bee spray from 30 feet away?
The bee spray is part of the Elk Mound school district’s active shooter preparedness that is one component of the ALICE training (alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate) that school staff and students participate in several times every year.
[emember_protected] “I would not want to be hit in the face with bee spray,” said Eric Wright, district administrator, during the Elk Mound school district’s public informational meeting about school safety April 5.
The bee spray is a feature of the “counter” part of the ALICE training.
The average school shooting lasts minutes, not hours, and survival is the primary focus, Wright told a group of about 40 parents who gathered in the high school auditorium for the presentation.
Dunn County has a school safety committee that meets quarterly and includes representatives from the Dunn County sheriff’s department, the police departments in the county and staff members from each of the schools.
All of the schools in Dunn County have the same crisis management plan, Wright said.
Each law enforcement agency has key fobs so officers can get into all of the schools. New police officers are all given tours of the schools so they are familiar with the layout, he said.
In the past, lockdown was the procedure used during a school safety crisis.
The idea was to lock the door, keep the students quiet, put them all in a corner away from the door and pray the person does not come in through the door, Wright said.
In recent years, ALICE training has given school personnel a variety of options to help them survive a school shooting, including the option of getting away if at all possible.
“We are moving beyond lockdown, and we trust staff to make the best decisions to help improve survival,” Wright said.
During the “alert” portion of a crisis, there may be no warning to teachers in the classrooms and no announcements of a problem, he said.
All of the schools are equipped with safety switches/panic buttons, and when the switches are activated, the signal goes to law enforcement immediately, Wright said, noting the panic buttons had been tested the previous Wednesday and were all in working order.
Once the panic buttons are activated, law enforcement is on the way, he said.
The schools have double doors in the entryways, and the schools also have other doors inside the buildings at strategic points, noted Paul Weber, Elk Mound High School principal.
When the panic buttons are activated, the doors lock automatically, he said.
The locked doors provide a barrier to block off parts of the school and will help create a safe zone for evacuating kids, Weber said.
If it is not safe for students and teachers to evacuate a classroom, then the next step involves locking the door, Wright said.
But locking the door is only part of the strategy.
The next step is to pile anything and everything in front of the door — desks, chairs, books, backpacks, whatever can be picked up and moved.
The students also should be spread out in the classroom and not clustered in a corner, Wright said.
And if the perpetrator does enter the classroom, yell, “GAME OVER!” he said.
When Wright asked the audience why someone should yell, “GAME OVER!” the answer came back quickly: because of video games.
The school shooter often is a young person, and “game over” is a strong part of video game culture, Wright noted.
The “inform” part of the process can involve informing parents of what is happening at the school, Wright said.
Inform can also include trying to keep the teachers and other school staff informed about what is happening, he said.
“We will try to do the best we can,” Wright said.
The “counter” portion of the training involves doing anything and everything to distract a shooter.
Students and teachers should make noise, throw objects, swarm the person and run in a zigzag pattern.
People running in a zigzag are much harder to hit than someone running in a straight line, Wright said.
The bee spray falls under this section as a way to distract the shooter.
If the weapon falls on the floor, because the shooter has been distracted, or because the shooter has dropped the weapon and has run out of the room, grab the garbage can, dump out the contents and put it over the weapon, Wright said.
Students and school staff should plan to use any non-traditional exits that are available, such as a window.
Break the window if necessary and escape that way, Wright said.
Everyone should plan for a mass evacuation, he said.
High school students are told, once they are out of the building, not to get into their cars and drive away, Wright said.
By the time students have gotten into their cars, law enforcement officers and ambulances are going to be trying to get into the parking lot, and a line of cars leaving is going to make it more difficult for rescue personnel to reach the school, he said.
Instead, students are instructed to go to rallying points where they can wait to be accounted for, Wright said.
By this time, the doors in the classrooms will be locked, and those who are in classrooms should not open the door for anyone. School administrators or law enforcement officers will have key fobs to unlock the doors when it is safe to do so, he said.
ALICE training methods are supported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Public Instruction, Wright noted.
Parents can do a number of things to help in situations where there has been an active shooter, Wright said.
For one thing, parents should delay driving to the school to keep roads, driveways and parking lots open for law enforcement and ambulance personnel, he said.
Parents should respect what law enforcement officers are telling them to do, and parents should try to be patient during the process of reuniting them with their children, Wright said.
The children will all be in one location and there will be school personnel working to sign out the children so they can go with their parents, he said.
Following the presentation on school safety, people in the audience were given an opportunity to ask questions.
All Elk Mound schools have a buzzer system for letting people into the building during the day, and one person wanted to know how school staff know who to let inside the building.
Office personnel usually know the people who are asking to be buzzed in, said Eric Hanson, principal at Mound View Elementary.
If the person is not familiar, office personnel will ask what business he or she has at the school. If there are family issues, people are not automatically let into the school, he said.
The questions office personnel consider include “is the person familiar?” and “is their stated business at the school reasonable?” Hanson said, noting that school personnel sometimes have to make a judgement about letting people into the building.
Another person in the audience wondered about basketball games.
Sporting events at schools were a recent topic at the school safety committee meeting, Wright said.
The schools all have a plan as to how to handle a situation at a game, but school personnel also know people who are attending games do not have any training, such as ALICE training, so schools must try to plan accordingly, he said.
Another person wanted to know about security during the day between classes.
In between classes, staff members are always monitoring the hallway, Wright said.
The teachers are talking to students as the students are going from one class to another, he said.
Another important factor is to make sure students know they can communicate with teachers and other staff members, Wright said.
“If you see something, say something” is stressed to students, he said.
Another parent wondered how Elk Mound planned to handle students who walk out of school to protest gun violence in schools.
Since the incident in Parkland, Florida, in February where 17 people were shot and killed at a high school, students have been participating in protests.
Another protest is planned for April 20 on the anniversary of the school shooting at Columbine High School.
The parents of high school students will receive letters about the protests, Weber said.
Elk Mound High School wants to keep children safe but also wants to allow the students to address the issue, he said.
Any student who leaves Elk Mound High School for a protest will be marked as an “unexcused absence,” Weber said, noting the policy is a way to let the community know Elk Mound is not condoning students walking out of school.
Administrators also are working with the student council to find ways to hold discussions among students about “what is going on with our country,” Weber said.
The discussions will be a way for students to express their feelings about the situation instead of participating in a walk-out, he said.
One parent wanted to know how to get more parents involved.
The Elk Mound school district has 1,200 students, and “there should be that many parents at this presentation,” he said.
Another parent wanted to know about the Elk Mound school district’s policy on cell phones.
The high school policy requires students to store their phones during the day, although the phones can be used at lunch time, Weber said.
Elk Mound Middle School has the same policy for middle school students, noted Chris Hahn, principal at Elk Mound Middle School.
Mound View Elementary students are not allowed to have cell phones, Hanson said. [/emember_protected]