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Students are often encouraged to bring canned goods to school for food drive or other charitable events. But administrators at W.F. Burns Middle School in Valley, Ala., sent a letter home with students on Friday asking them to bring in canned food for a more unusual reason: to throw at potential gunmen.
In the letter, Principal Priscella Holley explains that this “countering” tactic is part of the ALICE method of school safety; the acronym stands for “Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.” In the event of an intruder, every student will be armed with a canned food item, Holley explains. “We realize at first this may seem odd; however, it is a practice that would catch an intruder off-guard,” she wrote. “The canned food item could stun the intruder or even knock him out until the police arrive. The canned food item will give the students a sense of empowerment to protect themselves and will make them feel secure in case an intruder enters their classroom.”
Photo via WHNT News
But such empowerment isn’t necessarily a good thing, says Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services. “You’re telling kids under the guise of empowerment that they should attack heavily armed gunmen, and you’re giving them a false sense of security that’s enough to get them killed,” Trump tells Yahoo Parenting. “I’ve yet to see a police officer respond to a report of a gunman with a can of tomato soup, and yet we’re telling our children to do that?”
Trump says teaching countering tactics to students fails to take into consideration kids’ age and development, including the fact that special needs students or kids with medical problems may be present. “Police officers on the street train their entire careers on how to respond to a person with a gun,” says Trump. “We’re telling kids, just to make them feel empowered, ‘Here, bring a can of soup and throw it to attack the gunman.’ To expect that tactic to be successful in general, and to be successfully deployed by children, is absolutely insane. You can’t get a group of teens to simultaneously agree to whether they want chicken nuggets or pizza in the cafeteria, much less to make a split-second decision collectively and in a coordinated manner when there is a gunman in a school.”
Instead of training students on countering methods, Trump says schools should focus on lockdown drills and diversify them so they’re administered at unusual times like at the start of the school day or during lunch or dismissal. “There is not one documented case of a pre-K-through-12 school where the classrooms have been able to lockdown and have still been breached by an active shooter,” he says. “Lockdowns should be the foundation of school emergency planning. These other methods are usually pushed by individuals who, while well-intended, are driven by emotion rather than reason.”
Still, the ALICE training is used in 30 states across the country, Superintendent of Chambers County Schools Dr. Kelli Hodge told WHNT News. And while “countering” is one part of the training, it’s not the only focus. “I can honestly say that the major point of the the training… is to be able to get kids evacuated and not be sitting ducks hiding under desks,” she said.
At the end of the year, if the cans haven’t been used for protection, the school says they will donate them to a local food bank.