Published Sept. 8, 2022
BY EMMA BROWN
It was the first day at Carmel High School, and students walked into their first period expecting to discuss the syllabus. Instead, after a warm greeting, social studies teacher Bill Schrier gave them a presentation on hostile intruder protocols, walking them through safety procedures. For many students, this discussion is the only time these protocols have been addressed.
“My military training is to practice safety and be prepared,” says Schrier, a former Navy judge advocate. “I want students to be safe, and that’s not just about emotional safety, it’s also about physical safety.”
Despite the discussion about campus safety among CHS administrators, the senior class was the last CHS class to have received a formal presentation on how to respond to a hostile intruder, during the 2019-20 school year.
Now, in light of recent tragedies across the nation, CHS administrators plan to educate students on what to do in the event of a threat on campus. In mid-September, students will receive presentations from administrators on the current hostile intruder policy, following a staff training on the recommended steps to take in the event of a shooter at their Sept. 8 meeting.
For students, the upcoming lesson will be the first time that these policies have been addressed in three years.
As of May 24, there had been 27 reports of shootings on school campuses in America, according to NPR, making safety a priority for CHS this year. In recent years, CHS has been subject to two lockdowns due to on-campus or nearby threats, during the 2021-22 and 2018-19 school years, though no students were in danger in either situation.
“In the moment, I am always going to overreact,” explains CHS principal Jon Lyons. “With overreactions, all you get is a little annoyed that you got locked in the gym or you got locked in a room, but an underreaction could be a whole different ball game.”
In math teacher Andrea Smith’s classroom, students enter and exit the classroom through designated doors due to a lack of windows at eye level, which inhibits the instructor from easily checking who is coming into the room. Instead, Smith locks both doors, and when students leave during class, they must knock on the “entry” door, after which the teacher stands on a box beside the entryway and peers through the window to check the identity of the visitor.
“The first year I taught, the Sandy Hook shooting happened,” Smith says. “I remember thinking ‘That’s not happening in my classroom.’ And while it could still happen, I’d like to be as safe as possible, just in case.”
Some students would like for more teachers to discuss safety protocols surrounding hostile intruders.
“We’ve had training, but when it comes to real scenarios, most people wouldn’t know what to do,” sophomore Erin Ikemiya says. “I definitely think more teachers should be talking about hostile intruder training.”
Students seem to appreciate the conversations teachers do have about campus safety.
“The conversation with Mr. Schrier definitely gave me more confidence that we would be prepared if [a violent intruder situation] happened here,” senior Tyler Immamura says.
Prior to the 2019-20 school year, CHS trained students to shelter in place if a hostile intruder invaded campus, but after re-evaluation the district chose the ALICE policy, a five-part strategy that provides students with a list of responses, not organized in sequential order, to keep them safe.
“ALICE gives each student, teacher or classroom an option,” says student resource officer Kevin Gross. “It’s very situationally dependent and not a one-size-fits-all approach.”
The strategy begins with “Alert,” which instructs people on campus to spread news of a threat as quickly as possible, allowing for a rapid relay of information between locations on and around campus, as well as communication with first responders.
Administrators at CHS have direct lines to first responders offices and in the case of an emergency on campus would be able to quickly reach help via hotline.
“Lockdown” comes next, and in the event that a violent individual was too close to a classroom for students to evacuate, as a later step instructs, those inside the room should lock the doors, close the curtains and hide as quietly as possible.
Students are instructed to “Inform” next, communicating with others on campus a description of the intruder, as well as their location.
As a last resort, students and staff should “Counter” against an attacker, though only if in imminent danger. In an effort to distract or disarm a shooter, campus members are asked to confront the threat by attacking them with classroom items, building a barricade or making noise, among other options.
The preferred method for students under ALICE is to “Evacuate.” In order to get to safety as quickly as possible, students are instructed to run off campus and not stop until they feel that they are no longer in danger. The open layout of CHS’ campus, with no fencing surrounding it nor single point of entry, makes evacuation easy, but also leaves the school vulnerable to intruders.
“Having an open campus is what makes Carmel High beautiful and special,” Lyons says. “Students can leave campus at lunch, and a lot of schools don’t have that ability. We’re trying to balance losing that freedom. We don’t want students to feel trapped in their own school, but we also want them to be safe.”
A lack of security checkpoints at CHS also makes it difficult for faculty to verify the identity of individuals coming to campus.
“We use a program that scans [visitors’] IDs, but that only works if people come into the office and actually stop and check in,” says Gross. “If there’s no access control, then there’s no assurance that anybody’s going to check in. It only keeps an honest man honest.”
In an effort to prepare CHS classrooms with preventative safety measures, teachers are meant to lock their doors from the outside at all times, but can use a Lock Blok, a sliding plastic door stopper which keeps the door ajar. Should an intruder come onto campus, teachers can slide the mechanism to the left, thereby closing and locking the door. Classrooms are also equipped with blackout curtains, which could be drawn to give the illusion of vacancy and obscure a shooter’s view while students hide during a lockdown.
Though not required to, some teachers elect to address security vulnerabilities within their classrooms by doing a walkthrough with Lyons and Deputy Gross, during which they answer any safety questions, as well as identify the best exit strategy during an evacuation and the most effective lockdown plan.
“I’ve done as much prep work as I can to prepare the school for safety,” notes Gross. “This is a good school, and there’s smart people here. I hope what we’ve done assures students.”