District prepares for worst

BY MEGAN DEPPE | MARCH 11, 2014 5:00 AM

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Shimek Elementary School features murals on nearly every wall. Balloons adorn the hallway, and children’s drawings serve as wallpaper. But on Monday night, Iowa City School District officials and a local police officer took a break from the elementary curriculum to focus on a more serious issue.

Families gathered in Shimek to learn how teachers, and soon students, have been trained to react in the best possible way in the worst possible situation. District officials held the year-old training program ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate). Teachers in schools all across the School District have been retrained how to react if an armed shooter enters the school.

Susie Poulton, the district’s director of health and student safety, said this approach became relevant after the shootings at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook. “The idea is to increase the survival rate and decrease the carnage rate,” Poulton said. “We need to give our teachers options.”

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Over the summer, teachers were put through practices and drills, some with police officers and guns filled with blanks, to help teachers learn to react to a potentially dangerous situation other than just locking the classroom down. Officer Derek Frank of the Iowa City police, who gave the presentation, said that in this day and age, it is necessary to prepare for the worst.

“People were alarmed that we would teach children to go after an armed intruder, but that is not the case,” Frank said. “Unfortunately, we now live in a time when this sort of drill is necessary.” Frank emphasized the importance of teachers making decisions in the event of a school shooting rather than just shutting the door and turning off the lights, as is normal procedure in the current lockdown drill. He said teachers need to know how to provide information to the rest of the school and the police, as well as how to make the decision to either get students out of the building or to confront the attacker in case of a classroom breach.

“That’s why we want to come out here and teach the teachers as much as we can,” Frank said. “They’ll be the first responders.” Heidi Fincham, a mother in the district, suggested district officials create a tutorial on the Internet for parents and students to watch so that everyone receives the same information.

“I want to know that the kids are getting this information from their teachers,” Fincham said, noting that it would help parents approach the topic with their children as well. Poulton said once parent presentations are completed, all schools in the district will hold a drill for students using the new techniques. She estimated this drill would be held sometime in May. District officials will communicate with parents about when these drills will take place.

“We want to make sure that [students] are prepared as well,” Poulton said. Frank said he wanted to emphasize that preparing for this sort of event was important, especially for teachers.

“They didn’t sign up to be police officers; they signed up to be teachers,” he said. “In a situation like this, we don’t want them to just freeze, sit, and hope for the Police Department to get there.”

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