Montville students pitch safety training for teachers, administrators

Montville — A pair of high school seniors on Tuesday night received the OK from the Board of Education to investigate offering active shooter response training for teachers, administrators and paraprofessionals.

Emma Baxter and Indigo Whisman sought school board members' permission to consult with officials at the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) Training Institute, which offers a mix of online tools and in-person training. The private security company says it promotes proactive last-resort strategies, such as creating noise and movement to distract violent intruders and potentially reduce a shooter's accuracy, rather than a "passive, mandated, one-size-fits-all response."

"We wanted to give teachers, administrators and paras more than one option rather than just sitting in a classroom in the corner," Baxter said in an interview. "There should be different plans and different scenarios based on what's happening in the school at any time."

Whisman said the training potentially "can give some clarity ... as to what they should do in these situations."

The pair was adamant they wanted the training for district personnel responsible for students — not students themselves.

"That's not what we're looking for at all," Baxter said.

Baxter and Whisman will report on training costs and other logistics to school officials in the coming weeks.

Victoria Shaw, a spokeswoman for the ALICE Institute, said in an email that pricing for the company's "blended learning" of e-courses and in-person training is tiered and based on the number of trainees and contract duration. Twenty schools in Connecticut have used the training, she said.

Some critics question the effectiveness of ALICE and other training programs, such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's "Run-Hide-Fight." But the ALICE Training Institute notes it does not train individuals in confrontation, gun disarming or striking techniques, instead advocating "countering" — using noise, movement, distance and distractions — and evacuating.

District officials, who note that each school has a detailed safety plan, supported the students' research efforts.

Acting Superintendent Laurie Pallin encouraged Baxter and Whisman to learn more about the training, saying it could "be valuable to teachers. They do feel there's a lot left to their judgment now, and if you had more training, that would be helpful."

The training talk comes as the school board and town Public Safety Commission conduct ongoing discussions about school security, including whether to reinstate a school resource officer position or hire armed or unarmed security personnel at the district's schools.

The Board of Education held an executive session Tuesday to discuss options for new security and staffing measures, in part stemming from town officials' discussions after school shootings in Parkland, Fla., and Santa Fe, Texas, and meetings earlier this year with East Lyme officials. East Lyme staffs full-time, unarmed security officers at each of its five schools.

Baxter and Whisman started researching ALICE training as part of a public awareness project in their University of Connecticut Early College Experience American Studies course. Teacher Kim Glover said students had to present potential public awareness campaigns on "issues close to their own hearts."

"I have a little sister here and friends here," Whisman said. "I feel like I have to do something."

Baxter said if the district eventually implements added training for school officials, she would be happy for the incoming students and "feel like I actually made a mark on the building."

Glover declined to comment about the training but said "anything that empowers teachers, makes kids feel safer at school and parents more confident in sending them sounds good to me."

b.kail@theday.com

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