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Harford schools told they need to train students for active shooter situations

In response to the shooting at Ride Aid in Perryman last week that put one Harford public school on lockdown, as well as other shooting incidents across the country, some local residents are questioning how the school system is training students to react, if an active assailant situation arose in a school.

Even as school resource officers are being added to all middle schools in Harford County, joining those already in place at each high school, and the school system is proposing to spend $421,000 in grant money next fiscal year to implement additional security measures, the fear still exists that students won’t be properly trained in case of an emergency.

Henry Allen, a trustee at Ames United Methodist Church in Bel Air, questioned members of the Harford County Board of Education at their meeting Monday night as to why the school system still teaches students to “shelter in place” instead of ALICE training.

ALICE — Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate — provides “option-based tactics” rather than “lockdown only” approach, according to its website, www.alicetraining.com.

“Harford County Public Schools continues to practice ‘stay in place,’ a system implemented before the Columbine tragedy,” Allen said, referring to the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado during which 13 people died.

The school system, he was told, is studying which method to use, and has been for some time, he said.

“So simply, when so many lives are at stake, why are you taking so long to make this fateful decision?” Allen asked the board members.

Carla Fink, of Bel Air, said she’s scared for her daughter, a high-school student in Harford County.

“I taught my child to be prepared, to be ready for the tragedy of an active shooter,” Fink told the school board. “But I fear she will listen to the staff, listen to her teacher, and I fear she is in danger.”

Harford County Public Schools has been reviewing active assailant options-based courses across the nation that train individuals in the practice to choose a response of “run, fight or hide,” Jillian Lader, manager of communications for HCPS, wrote in an email.

Members of the school system leadership team attended ALICE training in April to experience one of the options-based trainings, she said.

“As that has happened, HCPS has also assembled a task force to determine what the best options are for our community to proceed with active assailant training in our school system,” Lader said. “That information will be shared with our community as soon as possible.”

Fink, who also wrote a letter to the editor (see Page A6), attended ALICE training two years ago, she said.

“I’m just coming from a place of concern to send my child to school every day,” Fink said. “This is the second active shooter in 11 months, those statistics are scary.”

Allen, a retired lieutenant colonel who spent 23 years in the Army, said he and members of his church, as well as their guests, took part in the ALICE training last week, two days before the shooting at Rite Aid that left four dead, including the female shooter, and injured three.

In the Army, he implemented lessons learned immediately after an exercise.

“We ask you, how long will it take the Harford County public school system and board to implement the lessons learned of our society?” he asked.

Security priority

Security measures in schools have jumped on the school system’s Capital Improvement Program priority list from 21st to seventh for Fiscal Year 2020, which begins July 1, 2019.

The Board of Education approved the county’s proposed budget which proposes spending $421,000 on security measures in the 2019-2020 school year, according to documents provided by the school system.

In FY2020, those measures include implementing security measures based on the Maryland Center for School Safety recommendations; replacing 21 camera servers throughout the system; adding security cameras to Harford Glen; and upgrading classroom locks at Darlington and Dublin Elementary schools.

Some of those projects will be paid for through grant funding, which the county must match.

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