DeWitt High School has started a program of classes with township fire department and police department staff to help prepare students and teachers in the case of an active shooter situation, Fire Chief Dave DeKorte announced during the DeWitt Township Board of Trustees meeting on March 12.
DeKorte, who leads the instruction in the classes, said the planning process had been going on for the last couple months, but the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, helped expedite the process.
“With everything going on, it just kind of made the ball roll a little faster,” said DeKorte.
The program is a daily occurrence, running between 45 minutes to an hour long, where the fire and police personnel visit three different classrooms to give formal instruction on what options they have when an active shooter is present.
“Basically, teaching them: if you can, you run; if you can’t, then it’s lockdown in the room, you barricade the door; you get ready to counter, where you’re going to basically throw whatever you can at them; and swarm the person if they come in the room, and then hold them down until we get there,” DeKorte said.
DeKorte said those involved, including himself, in teaching the classes have experience through the Alert Lockdown Inform Counter Evacuate (ALICE) Training Institute, which specializes in active shooter response training.
Whether through ALICE or not, law enforcement has always trained for active shooter situations, but now it’s being brought to students, so they can be prepared as well, said DeKorte.
The plan so far has expressed as an improvement.
“The program before that was, there wasn’t one,” said Police Chief Brian Russell. “I’d rather do something than do nothing, and it’s going to prepare the school and us to respond to violence more. This kind of training never hurts anybody, it may not be the best thing in the world, but even if one person gets something out of it that’s a good thing.”
“We understand the need for it, because it’s the world we live in now,” said Brian Bartlett, a retired DeWitt police officer who has one son currently enrolled at DeWitt High School and another who’s a graduate.
Bartlett said he thinks it will be beneficial for the school to receive this type of training.
Measuring the effectiveness of such a program can be a challenge, since a real active shooter situation would have to occur to get an accurate appraisal for the program.
“You don’t know the success until you have to use them,” said Assistant Principal Sean Wade, who played a key role in having the classes scheduled. “The kids have been participating, the teachers are doing it. The anecdotal feedback is that they appreciate that we’re taking school safety seriously and doing some things to ensure, should an unfortunate situation happen, that we have a higher probability of getting through that.”
DeKorte said there’s been “good feedback” from students and teachers, and has only been one parent complaint to stop the training.
The state of Michigan requires schools to do at least two lockdown drills each school year, which can simulate an active shooter situation, but there’s not been formal training like this before at DeWitt; involving students, teachers, and law enforcement together, said Russell.
The biggest challenge in getting the program underway was the scheduling it inside what the school already has planned for the year.
“The challenge is if the kids have a seminar period every day, which is like a homeroom, and the challenge may be us getting the basics in during that time,” Wade said. “Everybody’s got schedules.”
“The problem with the school is just like every other school: time,” said Russell. “Everything is scheduled already, so, is this important enough to break some schedule to go in, and we said it was and last year they kind of went ‘well, we just don’t have time to do it.’ So this year we pushed a little more.
“The mindset is always ‘it’s never going to happen to me,’ and we keep telling them ‘it can happen to anybody and everybody,’ and you’ve got to be prepared when it does happen.”
Some are aware that the class could trigger students to have an emotional response. Bartlett said the class was hard hitting for his son who went through it the first day it was introduced.
“It really shook him a little bit to do this training, it was really real,” said Bartlett. “He said the kids were using Nerf guns, for the most part everyone was taking it pretty seriously. You don’t always know the emotional stability of a lot of kids in the school, and to all of the sudden throw them into a situation to train for something like this could really scar them emotionally.”
In the future, organizers of the training expect it to become more standard like fire drills and lockdowns, but how it’s implemented to lower grade levels remains a question.
“Every year you have a new freshman class coming in and they would need to be trained, so that would be ongoing” said Wade. “At the lower levels, you’ve got kids that are younger and maybe the training isn’t suited as well for elementary-age kids as it for high school kids.”
“I think once the high school has it, then I think we need to come up with another plan for the elementary school,” said Russell. “They’re going to teach some of this, but it’s a lot different in the elementary school than it is for the high school, so there’s got to be a happy medium there too. I just hope this program continues and we can take it from there.”
According to Russell, during his time as police chief, there haven’t been any active shooter situations that made it to the school, only a handful of threats that were dealt with before they could materialize.