Students learn a lot in school: fractions, grammar, how to calculate velocity and read music. This year, Mora students are also learning how to use ropes to barricade a door, serpentine down hallways and escape through a window if their life is endangered by an active shooter.
School administrators call the practices “enhanced lockdowns” which are being taught to every student all the way from kindergarten to senior high.
Lock the door and barricade it with desks, throw something or simply run as fast and as far as possible. These are some of the options Mora Public Schools students are taught if faced with a shooter in their school.
Previous lockdown procedures practiced by many public schools were called “hard lockdowns.” Students were instructed to lock the doors and hide in the classroom.
Mora High School Assistant Principal Nick Bakke said that isn’t good enough anymore.
“It’s like in the military; tactics and strategies are changing. World War II looked nothing like World War I because things changed in a 20-year time period. So why wouldn’t we change to the way violence happens?” he said.
This year Mora public schools have implemented a new threat-response strategy called ALICE which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate.
Bakke and Elementary Co-Principal Randy Qual went through extensive training on how to train students and teachers to use these practices and make it harder for a shooter to achieve their goal.
“Shooters are looking for the path of least resistance because they know their time is very short. The police are coming, so they aren’t going to spend three minutes trying to get through a door. They are going to find a door that will let them in,” Bakke said.
Bakke said the ALICE principles empower students to use their own creativity and common sense to make survival decisions.
In September, Nick Axtel, a substitute teacher, demonstrated to his high school students how effective a rope around a door handle can be at keeping out intruders.
“Use your instincts. Be safe. Do whatever it is you think might work,” Axtel said. A student in the back cleverly pointed out that, even though the classroom is on the fourth floor, a window near his desk opens out to the gym roof and could be a good escape option.
“We aren’t telling people what to do. We are educating them and empowering them to make the best decisions for themselves,” said Bakke.
When practicing scenarios in the gym, where there is wide open space and lots of exits, students quickly realized their best option might be to run instead of locking the doors.
Run like a bunny
Another part of the ALICE training is adapting it to be age appropriate for all kids. At the elementary level, kids read a book titled, “I’m not scared, I’m prepared” and practiced running like rabbits in zig-zag patterns.
Lori Bradey has three children attending Mora schools: one in kindergarten, a third grader and seventh grader. Bradey, whose husband is in law enforcement, said the new ALICE training was a much needed and welcome change.
“It’s a good life skill they need, though it’s sad,” she said. Bradey said the training was presented in a very age-appropriate way for each of her children.
Dan and Lois Lanston are grandparents to a Mora high school student.
“With so many shootings, they need to do something,” said Dan. Lois agreed it was good to give students more options.
Yet 13-year-old student James Saxon said the program still had flaws. Saxon argued that since all the students are taught how to respond and where rendezvous points are, a violent student could use that information to their advantage.
Safety as a habit
Bakke said it’s his goal as a parent and educator for kids to develop the habit of thinking about how to protect their safety, but not to let it consume them.
“I want them to know this. I don’t want them to think about it. I don’t want them to think we live in a world that you should fear. I want them to go out and explore the world. I want them to enjoy all the experiences of life. But the reality is you walk into a new place ... I want them to take three seconds to think about the other exits,” he said.
“It’s sickening, but this is the fear of our world ... I think we have to prepare our students for the best life they can live by also being prepared for something the worst could bring.”