By Hiroko Sato
GROTON -- While some states are considering letting teachers carry guns, the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District is training its educators to fight potential school violence with a weapon of a different kind: quick thinking and better communication.
With the start of the new school year, the district has implemented a new safety protocol called ALICE -- "alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evaluate."
What it really means, Superintendent of Schools Anthony Bent said, is that teachers, staff and students would no longer have to stay in their rooms in case of a shooting, for example, only to be found by an intruder.
Forget about locking doors and huddling together in a corner, the safety rules commonly used among schools nationwide before the Dec. 14 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Bent said.
Local schools are now putting their faith in teachers to use their judgment to lead their students to safety.
"There is no question that the events going over the years, most recently Sandy Hook in Connecticut, have raised concerns on security in school," Bent said. "They have made school safety a front-burner issue for superintendents."
Bent said the district is changing its overall approach to safety issues.
The new safety plan includes better monitoring of school buildings. The district used some money it had in the maintenance account to upgrade the security monitoring system.
School secretaries in all school buildings now can see footage from at least two security cameras at once on an LCD monitor, an upgrade from older, small monitors with lower resolutions.
Each school also has additional cameras installed to monitor entrances from different angles.
Groton-Dunstable Regional High School is taking the security measures one step further than the rest of the district. That includes the designation of a "safe room." The principal or a staff member designated for security issues would lock themselves in that room during an emergency and broadcast information throughout the building.
Each corridor now has a name, such as "Corridor 1A," so that students and teachers will know in exactly which part of the building an intruder is.
"That gives people the ability to determine how close danger might be to them," Bent said.
Previously, most schools across the country required teachers, staff and students to stay where they are, lock the doors, pull down the shades and hide in one corner in case there is an intruder in the building, Bent said.
In the Columbine High School shooting in Columbine, Colo., in 1999, that gave the shooter an opportunity to attack multiple individuals all together, according to Bent. In another school-shooting incident, a gunman had practiced shooting at the ground because he had expected to see students huddled on the floor, he added.
Bent wants teachers to evaluate the situation and feel free to leave the building with students if they determine that is a safer choice.
The training for the high school's new safety protocol only involves teachers and staff for now, but will eventually include students. The school may also hold a drill, but that remains to be seen, Bent said.
Once the high school successfully implements the plan, other schools within the district will also adopt the same protocols.
An existing district staff member has been designated as the district security coordinator to oversee safety protocols, Bent said.
The naming of corridors will follow the same rule throughout the district so that people will understand what "Corridor 1A" means, for example, regardless of which school they may be at, Bent said.
The district will use simple codes for emergency communication so that people can remember what they mean, Bent said.