At the beginning of every school year, each grade in Baltimore County assembles in the auditorium to hear that bullying is bad and lateness is inexcusable; the talk takes up a whole class period. Last week, having heard this same talk 10 years in a row, I didn’t plan to listen very attentively. Most students brought sweatshirts to burrow into and nap, or chips to snack on. Many of us presumed that school safety was what it always had been — rote and redundant.
But there was nothing rote or redundant about the information given to us this time around. After covering the basic no-no’s, our vice principal distributed a leaflet entitled ALICE. Who is Alice? Alice is a product of Maryland’s Safe Schools Act 2018, a training approach meant to prepare school communities for the “very unlikely event” of an active assailant in the building.
Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate — the ABCs of our generation.
The “Alert” component involves awareness of the situation. The pamphlet lists a few ways in which this could happen: “Report from a witness. Announced through PA system. Sound of gunfire.” A couple of kids laughed. Gunfire seems like such an obvious sign.
A week after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., we were in class when, from the hallway — POP. One of my friends dove under his desk; the teacher’s face blanched, and she gestured toward the closet. We crammed inside together and waited. Most of us texted our parents, while others just watched the door, waiting for the lock to turn. Eventually, our teacher checked the adjoining classroom and learned that someone had popped a balloon in the hallway.
The next part of ALICE is “Lockdown.” These instructions range from understandable to utterly bizarre. We are to: “lock the door… tie down the door, if possible, with belts, purse straps, shoelaces … put ourselves in position to surprise the active assailant … gather objects and mentally prepare to defend ourselves.”
“Counter” is the last resort. We are instructed to “use noise, movement, and distraction … throw things at the assailant’s head to disrupt their aim… run around the room, create chaos.” It would almost be funny — this image of us all making as much noise as we can, chucking staplers and running laps around the room, except of course it’s not. At 45 rounds a minute, the noises and the throwing and the running can be stopped in seconds.
Still, with ALICE, we can at least minimize fatalities, as our student resource officer told us so bluntly. We could avoid being sitting ducks.
It makes sense if you don’t think about it too much. But it’s hard to do that. I was in elementary school when Sandy Hook happened. Most of our teachers didn’t even mention it the next day. Now we’re learning how to swarm an attacker, to grab their “limbs and head” and keep them down on the ground.
The day of the balloon incident, I kept thinking of Parkland. I saw dark hooded shapes carrying assault rifles. I flinched at textbooks being dropped on desks. I mapped out every classroom for escape routes. This is what I think about in calculus.
The “E” in ALICE stands for Evacuate. Jump through windows and run zig-zags toward the football field, pounding mulch under your sneakers and hoping that it is the only pounding you will hear. Someone asked if we would practice running away. Another student asked if she could bring Mace to school now, just in case.
I’m sure that some time in the next six months there will be another school shooting. More children and educators, mothers and fathers, gone. More survivors made to jump by popped balloons for the rest of their lives. Maybe ALICE will work miracles. Maybe it will save five lives or 10. But it’s surreal that we students are learning to fight for our lives at school.
Margot Deguet Delury is an 11th-grader at George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.