FRANCONIA — If the unthinkable were to happen and an intruder were to enter one of the Franconia schools, students will be prepared to fight back. The district is in the process of transitioning to the A.L.I.C.E. defense model, which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate. The new approach to student safety has been adopted by school districts near and far in response to school tragedies such as Sandy Hook. “Kids are excited about learning this,” said School Officer Tracy Flagg during an information session for parents last week. “They are excited about being given options.”
According to Superintendent Salah Khelfaoui, the change was suggested by the Winchendon Police Department.
I can’t thank them enough,” he said. “They’ve invested a great deal of time.” At the information session, faculty members and Officer Flagg told the 22 parents in attendance the approach keeps students from being “sitting ducks” in an emergency situation.
The goal of the A.L.I.C.E. model is to disorient potential attackers so they never know what comes next, disrupting what Officer Flagg called the attacker’s “movie reel.” This could be done with announcements over the loud speakers, evacuations or , as a last case resort, hurling chairs at the intruder.
Instructors emphasized to parents the training will be age appropriate. Elementary schools won’t be trained to face off with a gunman, but instead how to listen to their teachers. “It’s presented at various levels,” said Dr. Khalfaoui. Officials said the new system is unpredictable, as it’s not an order of events but a list of options. There is no way of knowing in advance what techniques will be used or what the attacker will do.
There are plans for how to convey information to parents and meeting points for kids. However, Murdock Middle School Principal Joseph Mackey said parents should expect some bumps. “It’s going to take hours to find all the kids,” he said, noting many will probably ignore the meeting spot in favor of friends’ houses or the woods. “The kids know the woods better than we do.”
As it currently stands, there are some holes in the schools’ security, including a shortage of surveillance cameras at Memorial Elementary School and Murdock Middle High School. Dr. Khelfaoui said the district asked voters to approve funds for more cameras at the 2013 Annual Town Meeting, but were shot down by voters. “We’re going to have to make it happen,” Dr. Khelfaoui said. All grades will be receiving training in A.L.I.C.E. next week, according to officials. After this initial training, students will participate in drills about twice a year.