Albuquerque Public Schools Chief Operations Officer Gabriella Blakey watches a recently-released video about school safety at the APS headquarters on Wednesday. The video goes over the district’s “ALICE” protocols, a proactive set of procedures describing what students should do if violence erupts at a school. (Chancey Bush/Albuquerque Journal)
The FBI met with teachers and school resource officers at ASK Academy in late August on how to handle and detect school violence
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There’s a “new reality” in education, Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Scott Elder says, one that’s “difficult, emotional and – tragically – now unavoidable.”
That’s why APS is redoubling its efforts to keep kids and educators prepared for the worst through student-focused books and videos focused on emergency situations and physical safety measures designed to keep violence, and intruders, away from school campuses.
“Security and safety have changed,” APS Chief of Police Steve Gallegos said during a news conference Wednesday. “Simply hiding out is not effective. Removing potential victims from a dangerous situation is safer.”
In part because of incidents he called “unavoidable” last school year, Elder said there’s a sense of urgency surrounding school safety this year.
Two students were fatally shot on or near school campuses last school year. In one incident, 13-year-old Bennie Hargrove was killed at Washington Middle School – three days into the school year.
In the other, West Mesa High School junior Andrew Burson, 16, was shot near the school’s football field – that time off campus.
On Wednesday, APS released a 4½-minute video in English and Spanish that goes over existing safety protocols known as ALICE, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. The videos are directed at middle school and high school students, officials said.
The ALICE procedures replaced past shelter-in-place protocols for every lockdown situation, according to the APS security webpage. They allow teachers and students to make more proactive decisions about what to do should violence erupt at a school, officials said.
That includes running from danger, throwing things at intruders or rushing them as a group and barricading doors with anything handy – whiteboards, desks, backpacks – to buy time to escape.
“Anything it takes to stay safe,” APS police Lt. Steven Marez said during the video. “Do not hide under tables or in corners. That makes you more of a target.”
ALICE training happens once per year, Gallegos said, and the video will be shown with the same regularity. That’ll happen in the coming weeks, Elder added.
A book directed at elementary school students, called “I’m Not Scared … I’m Prepared,” is also being provided. Parents were notified of the new video in a letter that went out on Wednesday. And there’s a longer, more in-depth version of the video that all staff will watch, Gallegos said.
The video, Elder said, was produced at the request of high school students asking for clarity about safety procedures in case there’s a dangerous intruder on campus.
Andy Doan, an Albuquerque High School student who’s on the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council, said that while he thinks ALICE training is very effective, not a lot of students know much about it – or what to do when there’s a dangerous situation on campus.
“We felt like it was inadequate … most students didn’t know what the protocols were,” he told the Journal in an interview in early August. “Most students don’t know what ALICE is, or what it stands for.”
The council requested more information about ALICE during one of their monthly meetings last spring, Elder said.
APS has implemented several other measures to make schools more safe, district officials said, including installing vestibules that become “man traps,” fencing to limit entrances to a campus, upgraded locks on each of the district’s 6,900 classrooms and allowing local law enforcement to take control of school surveillance cameras.
But, while the upgraded locks are on every classroom door, APS needs as much as $12 million to install other physical safety measures, like fencing and vestibules, at every school, Elder said. He added that the district is looking to the state Legislature to help get it across the finish line with “more accessible” capital funding for school safety.
“It takes money,” he said. “We could probably get it up inside two years.”