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District emphasizes school safety in wake of Texas shooting

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Sabine Poux
/
KDLL

When there’s a school shooting in the Lower 48, administrators in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District hear from parents who want to know what protocols the district has in place to stop a similar tragedy from happening locally.

Superintendent Clayton Holland said that was true after a gunman killed 19 students and 2 teachers in Uvalde, Tx. late last month.

“Definitely any time this happens on a national scale, we get concerns and we always go back and reevaluate what we do and make sure we’re doing the right things and what else we should be talking about," Holland said.

The shooting in Texas was one of the latest in a long string of tragedies to hit schools across the U.S.

And as those shootings have continued, schools have updated their protocols to be more preventative.

Holland said in 2015, the district started doing what are called ALICE trainings. That stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. And he said it’s more active than the prior lockdown method of responding to an intruder.

“The traditional way was a lockdown," he said. "So even going back in time there were code words to be used, a code for somebody being in the building and what that meant. That all went away. The plan now is to be very direct with what’s happening.”

Lockdown is part of the new framework. But so is evacuating.

“And so when I look at what happened most recently here in Texas, it was an hour wait, it was a long time," he said. "And there were students in the other classrooms still in that building. I think under our scenario, we probably would’ve been more actively evacuating that building.”

Another key point of the trainings has to do with countering a threat with noise or other distractions. But Holland said that’s a last resort.

The district does ALICE trainings for students and staff twice a year. Holland said they vary the training based on age level, to make sure lessons are age appropriate for young kids.

He said the district is also building up its security infrastructure, including a long-term project to update schools with key card-entry access into its schools. He said it’s a priority to expedite those updates, particularly in elementary schools.

Another piece of the puzzle, Holland said, is identifying threatening student behavior before it becomes a problem. Holland said district staff are trained in doing behavior threat assessments.

“I think it’s been very successful so far, a lot of time even just getting a student more help than what was recognized before," he said.

There are no statewide regulations about school security, though Holland said after the Uvalde shooting, the state did send out a list of recommendations. Protocols largely vary across districts, though he said Alaska’s largest school district, the Anchorage School District, also does the ALICE trainings.

Communication with families is another important part of any response. If there is an incident or potential incident, District Spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff said it’s often her job to get out accurate and up-to-date information about what’s going on.

She said no two events, or communications, are the same.

“But the thread that through it all is this is what happened, all our kids are safe," she said. "And fingers crossed that’s always the first thing we can say. The time may come when that isn’t. But being able to be there for our families, but primarily for who is involved in a situation that’s unfolding.”

The district put that communication framework into practice this spring, when it put Nikiski North Star Elementary on “stay put” mode after the school received a threatening phone message. That meant school doors were locked and classes continued as normal while officers investigated. Law enforcement later determined the threat was false.

Erekneff said when the upcoming school year nears, the district will be in touch with parents to remind them about district training and protocols.

You can find the district’s guidelines for school emergencies here.

Sabine Poux is the news director at KDLL. Originally from New York, she's lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont, where she fell in love with local news. She covers all things central peninsula but is especially interested in stories related to energy and fishing. She'd love to hear your ideas at spoux@kdll.org.
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