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School safety remains top priority for Ellsworth schools

Signs like this one were posted at Ellsworth High School when it had an ALICE drill in August 2016 for staff. Jason Jahnke, Ellsworth High School assistant principal, said later this month they plan to have an ALICE drill for the students. File photo1 / 2
Jason Jahnke, assistant Ellsworth High School principal, said they will be having a public meeting about the Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate (ALICE) program on March 20 at 6:30 p.m. in the cafeteria of the Ellsworth Elementary School. Sara Tischauser / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

Before the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, school safety was thought of differently. As school shootings continue to make headlines, many schools are looking at the best ways to keep students and staff safe.

"Columbine, to me, changed our outlook on school violence," said Ellsworth High School Assistant Principal Jason Jahnke. "At time we thought we would never see this again, but [we] did."

Jahnke said the school will host a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 20 in the Ellsworth Elementary cafeteria. This meeting will inform people about the Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate (ALICE) program which Ellsworth Community School District is using.

"People who founded ALICE are teachers and law enforcement who looked at Columbine," said Jahnke.

The district wants the community to be involved and informed with the safety measures the school is taking; they also want to listen to what everyone has to say.

"Open to everybody," Jahnke said about the meeting. "Everybody is a stakeholder in safety of a kid."

In August 2016, Jahnke said the Ellsworth School District simulated an ALICE drill at the high school with village and county police and staff from grades K-12. For the last two years they have trained teachers and staff on ALICE and have shared the information with students. Jahnke said every quarter or semester, teachers review with their students what to do in case of an intruder.

"High school kids are pretty well versed from a verbal perspective," Jahnke said.

However, he said, they haven't had an ALICE drill for students but plan to do so later this month. Unfortunately, Jahnke said, it is necessary to have these drills.

"The reality is we have to drill for this similar to that of fire," Jahnke said. "It needs to be that commonplace."

Jahnke said one of the different aspects of ALICE is the counter and evacuate portion of the program. Even five years ago, he may not have thought evacuation to be a good choice, but now he sees evacuation as a possible way to keep students safe.

When the Columbine shooting was reviewed, Jahnke said, it was discovered there was an exit that could have been used to get students out of the building, but at that time the predominate thought was to "hunker down." Since that time, people are realizing that may not always be the best option.

Evacuation, Jahnke said, would occur if it is possible for students and staff to leave the building without encountering the intruder. Students would not "file out in front of an intruder."

The counter part of the program is also a different protocol than what people may be used to. Jahnke said it is important for people to realize what counter actually means. Many people think the school staff is teaching students to attack the intruder. But, he emphasized, this is not the case.

"Counter could mean just screaming, throwing something," Jahnke said. "Not teaching them to attack. We are arming them with knowledge."

Prior to Ellsworth schools having an ALICE drill, parents will be informed so they know when it will happen. The drill will be different for different age groups, but the end goal is to make everyone as safe as possible.

"Intent [of ALICE is] every group is as safe as we can make them in a school building if we have an intruder here to harm kids and staff," Jahnke said.

While there are many "what ifs," they may not be able cover every situation that could happen, but they can teach students and staff the basics of ALICE so they can make an informed decision on their safety if they need to.

"We can prepare and work towards giving kids knowledge," Jahnke said. "We can't cover the unknown."