'Yesterday, I was sad. Today, I am mad.'
School Superintendent Heidi Maier is fast-tracking the rollout of new security measures in Marion.
Local schools already have been putting pieces of the ALICE Protocol, as the new program is known, into place.
"With Wednesday’s shooting (at a high school in Broward County) we are expediting the timeline for this new approach. Thank you for being a helper who cares for those around them," said a message sent Thursday morning to all school employees.
What does this mean? For starters, locked doors.
Prior administrations have encouraged teachers to keep classroom doors locked. It is now mandatory. Children and staff can leave the room, of course, but people cannot get in from the outside.
The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward had a strong effect on Maier.
"Yesterday, I was sad," she said. "Today, I am mad."
The district email says: "As we help our students, and each other, deal with the tragedy at Douglas High School...I encourage you to focus on the lights in the midst of deep darkness.
“Even before Wednesday’s tragedy, our district was working on a new strategy to keep our schools safe. It’s called the ALICE Protocol, and in coming weeks, you will hear more of it. This is a new aggressive way to ensure the safety of our students, staff, and schools as we move forward together.”
The ALICE website, https://www.alicetraining.com/, says that, among other things, trainers will help prepare “a plan for individuals and organizations on how to more proactively handle the threat of an aggressive intruder or active shooter event.”
ALICE (an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) replaces the post-Columbine lockdown approach to on-campus dangers.
“This will be a major shift in mindset,” Maier said. “We will be doing a lot of training with our staff.”
Dennis McFatten, the district’s safe schools coordinator, said that federal law enforcement agencies advise that since all active shooter cases are different, safety plans need to be flexible. There are circumstances when it is safer for employees and students to evacuate instead of hiding in locked classrooms.
McFatten is looking at many other changes to better protect school administrators, staff and students. But the district will not disclose all of the changes, lest the “bad guys” learn how to thwart security.
Separately, in a video posted to his agency's Facebook page, Sheriff Billy Woods on Thursday assured residents that the Sheriff's Office takes all threats seriously and is vigilant in protecting Marion County students.
"You can DEFINITELY expect a visit from us if we receive information that your child has threatened violence toward others at our schools. Also, if we find that you are trespassing on school grounds, you will be subject to arrest. Parents can also expect to see an increased presence of our deputies at schools in an effort to discourage anything like this from ever happening," Woods said.
"We would like to encourage our students to SAY SOMETHING if they see something. Please encourage your children to come see one of my deputies if they feel like something is just not right," he said, mentioning the anonymous 24/7 “Speak Up” hotline number:1-866-SPEAK UP. People also can call Marion County Crime Stoppers at 352-368-STOP.
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Joe Callahan can be reached at 867-4113 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JoeOcalaNews.