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It’s a day Sylvania school administrators and parents hope they never face, yet the reality of school shootings elsewhere has prompted the school district to prepare children for a worst-case scenario.
Inside a seventh-grade classroom, children listened intently one day last week while English teacher Sarah Rahman described different possibilities of “what if” an intruder with a weapon entered the Arbor Hills Junior High School.
The questions were not meant to be answered with a correct response. The review exercise instead encouraged the students to use their instincts and common sense, a term Ms. Rahman used frequently.
Above all, the questions aimed to make the students realize that sitting in a room, frozen with fear, is not an option.
“I want you to run,” she said before asking the class to name a fictional character famous for fleeing. They promptly responded with the title character in the movie Forrest Gump.
“I want you to run, run like Forrest Gump to get away from danger,” Ms. Rahman implored.
The review session during the second week of classes — based on the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) safety protocol — was one of four that will take place districtwide during the school year. Each session, taught by staff and administrators who have been ALICE trained, will get more intense, said Nancy Crandell, a district spokesman.
“Ten years ago when I was a principal, we never spoke about this,” Scott Nelson, a district assistant superintendent, told the classroom.
He commended them on their responses, and reminded them that if an intruder does enter their building, they will be informed.
Each school building is outfitted with a safe room, deliberately misnamed. The steel-doored room has communications equipment duplicating that of the school office, including a separate phone line, cameras, television monitors, copy machines, and control of the building’s public-address system.
“The person in this room can talk to the intruder” and try to distract or psychologically manipulate him or her, said Sylvania Township Police Sgt. Clarence Whalen, who oversaw the ALICE review.
By following an intruder’s actions via camera, a person in the safe room can try to “take the intruder’s focus off the children,” with updates on how close police responders are coming, he said.
No one knows for sure how one would react if face-to-face with someone pointing a gun, but Ms. Rahman and Sergeant Whalen reminded them that a sitting duck is dead — harsh words, but necessary to evoke the reality of a school shooting.
Another reality is instinct and reflex. Ms. Rahman quickly threw a pencil bag at a student, who instinctively moved to catch it.
“We all have natural reflexes, when something is thrown at us, we move out of the way,” she said. The exercise reminded students they can use any number of objects to tie a door shut, barricade doors with cabinets and desks, or throw things at someone threatening them.
The advice contrasted sharply with one student’s recollection of what he had been told in the past to do when facing a threat: sit in a line, waiting quietly for help.
“It is a little ridiculous that we would have been told to sit,” he said.
Contact Natalie Trusso Cafarello at: 419-206-0356 or firstname.lastname@example.org.