Shots rang out in the halls of Genoa schools Monday but teachers didn’t panic. They knew it was going to happen beforehand.
Clay Township Police Department members fired several rounds of blanks during a 30-minute session at an in-service day at the high school, middle school and elementary buildings.
The “shots fired training” is part of ongoing preparation for the new ALICE school emergency response system enacted this past school year at Genoa. ALICE, which stands for Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate, operates on the premise it’s better to run than to lock doors and hide.
Teachers, secretaries and custodians with maps of firing sites listened from their rooms and other parts of the building. They scrutinized what they could and could not hear from the various firing points and later talked about how to react.
“The teachers came back together and we had a chance to debrief. The training spurred a lot of conversation. Many of them had never heard a gun fire within a building,” said Cari Buehler, Genoa High School’s assistant principal. “For me, the blank fired by the auditorium sounded just like the one fired by the entrance of the middle school.”
And though the event was staged, the pretend gunfire sent some blood pressure counts soaring among the 130 or so staffers involved.
“I was really surprised how nervous I was -- just knowing it was coming,” Buehler said. “I could feel my heart pumping.”
“Before ALICE I would have been in panic, maybe even locking the door or hiding under a desk,” Buehler said. “But with ALICE, it was reassuring that we had a plan in place.”
It also encourages staff and children to distract or confuse shooters in the effort to flee the building. Its controversial nature has triggered a lot of debate among educators, law enforcement officers and parents in the wake of school shootings nationwide.
Still, Genoa school administrators remain steadfast in the choice to use the program for students in pre-kindergarten to 12th grade school settings. Genoa was the first Ottawa County school district to adopt the program and undergo student training in all grade levels this school year.
Clay Township Police Chief Terry Mitchell pitched the program last year. The chief, who has conducted several public meetings to keep parents and community members informed, is adamant that ALICE is the right choice for local school safety. He was not available for comment Tuesday.
However, in December, Mitchell stood before a crowd in the high school auditorium and noted that the only written school building procedure in place beforehand in response to gun fire amounted to a call to drop to the floor, close your eyes and cover your head.
“You might as well as pray,” he warned the crowd then.
Mitchell and his officers also stood lookout during the Monday training to make sure unknowing visitors didn’t wander into the buildings. “No visitors or students ever came near the building,” Buehler assured.
Students were never involved in any part of the shots fired training. And will they be in the future?
“I can honestly say I don’t ever see that happening,” Buehler said.