Harford County Public Schools will begin a new active assailant training next month, beginning with school administrators and then with teachers, staff and, ultimately, students.
The training, which will be unique to Harford schools, will incorporate the run-hide-fight model and will be implemented through a partnership of the school system, Harford County government and local law enforcement agencies, Superintendent Dr. Sean Bulson announced at Monday’s Harford County Board of Education meeting.
“The safety of our students and our staff is our number one priority,” Bulson said. “We have to start there before we can even think about instruction, because if they’re not safe, we can’t get on to the real work of school.”
In a video played for the school board and the audience, Bulson was joined by Harford County Executive Barry Glassman and Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler in announcing the new training program.
“We are ready to bring this life-saving training into our schools,” Gahler, who attended Monday’s board meeting, said in the video. “Planning has already begun between public safety experts and school leadership to develop training to combine the best practices in active assailant response that is tailored to the uniqueness of our schools.”
The training is in response to public feedback following school shootings in Florida and Maryland earlier this year.
In March, the school system, local law enforcement and county officials hosted a town hall on school safety to hear concerns from the public, which said more training is needed.
“In April, we announced plans to expand school resource officers into all middle schools,” Glassman, who could not make Monday’s school board meeting, said in the video. “Today we’re providing an update on the next major step forward in school safety.”
Harford’s training will be called AACRT — Active Assailant Critical Response Training, which Bulson said follows the run-hide-fight national model.
Implementing AACRT will take time, considering Harford’s school system includes 5,000 staff and 38,000 students, he said.
“It’s not the press of a button. It will take time to roll out as quickly as we can, but also we need to make sure we do it as well as we can,” Bulson said.
Training for school-based leaders in November will be followed by teachers, then staff and students, he said. The goal is to have nearly all the administrators trained before the end of the calendar year.
The program includes two components, content training and practical experience, Bulson said.
Because there are few opportunities for training, the school system is developing online learning modules to have a minimal impact on staff.
“Part of the challenge is, our staff is very much committed to safety, but we are still thoughtful about their time, so we’re trying to find ways that works best for them to have as high quality training as possible without cutting into more of their time,” Bulson said.
Trainers from the school system, all of Harford’s law enforcement agencies and the county government will help with the practical training, Bulson said.
The school system has five staff members trained in ALICE — Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate — and is sending five more to be trained in the next few weeks, Bulson said. The Sheriff’s Office, county and municipal law enforcement agencies in Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace also have trainers who will assist the school system.
“This is just a way we can use our expertise to get it done. They have a large employee base and large population of children,” Glassman said. “It’s a pretty large undertaking.”
Bulson would like to have the training modules for teachers ready by March and completed by the end of the school year, he said. In the spring, some of the student drills will be piloted in classrooms so they can be fully rolled out in the next school year, Bulson said.
What the students and staff will be taught may be common sense-type things, the superintendent said.
“But we want to make sure people don’t have to think too much,” he said. “They have some experience should anything happen, they have some immediate ideas about how to respond and don’t have to go through that learning process when there’s no time to learn, so we’re making sure that’s how we learn that about safety.”
The Sheriff’s Office has already provided ALICE training for about 7,000 people in the community, including businesses and churches, according to Gahler. That has raised the awareness and made people look at public spaces differently, Bulson said.
“We want to make sure our students and our staff and anyone who’s in our schools has the ability to at least have that lens to look through so that they have a chance to respond appropriately when something happens,” he said.
The training will be fluid, dynamic, changing as police respond to active assailants across the country and identify best practices from their responses, Gahler said.
Before the fatal shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in April 1999, law enforcement would set up a perimeter and hold until more law enforcement arrived. After Columbine, Gahler said, police would go in to stop the killing.
Most recently, as has happened in the recent mass shootings in Harford County, emergency medical personnel have gone in under the supervision of law enforcement to begin treating victims as quickly as possible, he said.
“It’s always an evolving process based on lessons learned,” Gahler said.
Assailants are also learning and doing things differently, he said, using the shooting at The Capital newspaper in Annapolis as an example. The shooter in that incident June 28, in which five staff members were killed and two others were injured, the suspected gunman barricaded the back door of the offices, neutralizing the “run” aspect of run-hide-fight.
It’s unfortunate such training has to be done, Gahler said.
“We are living in a date, a time, when individuals are trying to memorialize themselves by committing heinous acts. Life is not valued,” he said. “It’s the reality of our society living in 2018 of what police and school systems have to contemplate and be ready for.”
“I hope we can learn and not feel threatened by it, but see it as a public safety way to protect ourselves,” Glassman said.