As It Happens

Washington mom shocked after kindergarteners trained to throw books at school shooters

Lisa Guthrie was shocked to learn at a recent PTA how children as young as five are being taught to minimize bloodshed during school massacres.
A kindergarten student in Hawaii hides during a classroom lockdown drill Feb. 18, 2003, aimed at protecting children from threats, including armed intruders. (Phil Mislinski/Getty Images)

Story transcript

When Lisa Guthrie first learned at a PTA meeting that her five-year-old daughter was taught to run around, shout and throw things if a shooter opens fire on her classroom, she was shocked.

"And then it punched me in the gut: If she's face to face with a shooter, she's going to die regardless," the Redmond, Wash., mother wrote on Facebook.

"The goal will be for her and her classmates to make their deaths take 20 seconds rather than 10. That's 10 more seconds for other kids to run, 10 more seconds for first responders to get to the scene and take out the shooter. A lot of lives can be saved in 10 seconds.

"We live in a country where kindergartners learn how to maximize the number of lives they can save as they're being massacred."

The post has been shared more than 18,000 times. 

Guthrie was talking about ALICE, an Ohio-based emergency training program that stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.

Police officers explained the thinking behind ALICE to Guthrie and other parents before last week's massacre in Parkland, Fla., when a former student opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, killing 17 people

"The big thing that they tell the kids, from what I understood from the presentation, is really to listen to the adults around them," Guthrie said.

"If the adults around them say to run, they're to run. If the adults around them say to hide, they're to hide. If the adults around them say to throw books, they're to throw books."

According to 2015-16 data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 94.6 per cent of schools in the U.S. report they have conducted some type of "lockdown drills" to prepare students for intruders. At least six states specifically require students to train for active shooters, reports Vox.

Flee or fight?

Most drills teach students to hide under their desks or at the back of their classrooms. But ALICE takes a more aggressive approach, training kids to flee the campus if possible, and fight back as a last resort. 

It's a controversial approach to school safety. 

"Schools must carefully consider the decision-making protocol for people to engage in a strategy other than lockdown," the National Association of School Psychologists says in its guidelines for armed shooter drills. 

"For instance, run/escape may lead to safety for some, but it might inadvertently lead to danger for others as students unknowingly 'escape' into the path of an unknown assailant, expose them to the sight of injured or dead classmates and teachers, or result in students trampling each other to get to the exit door."

A spokesperson from ALICE did not immediately respond to As It Happens' request for comment. 

In 2016, the Manitoba Teachers' Society rejected a recommendation by the Winnipeg Police Service that city schools adopt ALICE training, calling it "quite a different philosophy than we have here in Canada."

Kids saving other kids

But Guthrie believes it could save lives.

"It's horrifying to think about, and I hope my daughter's never in this situation or anywhere close to it, but it's easier to shoot at kids that are sitting quietly in a corner than it is to shoot at children all over the room," she said.

And if it doesn't save her own daughter's life, she said it could save someone else's child.

Throwing the shooter off balance — even for a few seconds — could give kids elsewhere in the school an opportunity to escape, she said. 

An 'active shooter' is grabbed as he enters a classroom as 'students' take cover during ALICE training at the Harry S. Truman High School in Levittown, Penn., on Nov. 3, 2015. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

"I think of it as macro-level — what's best for the whole school — and then there's what's best for my individual child. And it's hard. You hope that both of those things are in alignment," she said.

"But if that's not possible then I understand that as a community we want what's best for the majority. It's hard to think about my kid being in the minority, but that's something that I have to face."