The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 29, 2013

Small crowds attended Conneaut school shooter meetings

Fewer than 120 people total went to ALICE sessions

Star Beacon

CONNEAUT — A subject dear to parents, the safety of their children, didn’t help put people into seats at a series of recent meetings outlining Conneaut’s school defense plans.

Over the past few days, each school in the Conneaut Area City Schools district hosted a meeting geared to the district’s new ALICE response plan to an armed intruder. In a district with an estimated 2,000 students, less than 120 adults attended the four meetings — combined, school officials said.

The first session, held March 21 at Conneaut Middle School, had the lowest response: Eight people, not counting a reporter. Things picked up slightly on Monday, when Gateway Elementary School held its meeting. An estimated 34 people were in the audience, said Joel Taylor, Conneaut High School assistant principal and ALICE team leader. Even better was Tuesday’s session at Lakeshore Primary, attended by some 50 people, he said.

But numbers dropped at Wednesday night’s meeting at Conneaut High School, where only 21 parents were present, said CHS Principal Dawn Zappitelli.

If school administrators were discouraged by the turnout, they masked it well.

“The first night was pretty disappointing,” said Superintendent Kent Houston. “But attendance got much better as the week went on.”

Zappitelli said she was hoping for a better response at her school, but felt the people present will help spread the message.

ALICE is an acronym for Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate, a defense philosophy designed to give students and staff options meant to maximum their chances of survival during an attack, rather than the duck-and-cover response that has proven ineffective. For example, occupants could choose to flee or barricade themselves in a room — depending on the situation at that particular moment.

CACS began exploring the ALICE concept in 2011, well in advance of the February 2012 shootings at Chardon High School that killed three students.

Conneaut’s parents meetings were devoted to explaining procedures and talking about steps the district has already taken to protect building occupants, ranging from special door locks to security camera enhancements. Police have already practiced shooter scenarios in the buildings, attendees learned.

Speakers included members of the ALICE team, which is comprised of school and safety officials. “It’s been a joy to work with the police and fire departments,” Houston said.

Parents who attended the sessions seemed “receptive” to the program, Taylor said. “They asked honest questions,” he said.

Others thanked school officials for their proactive approach. “There were a lot of compliments,” Houston said.

Zappitelli agreed. “The parents seemed very appreciative and thanked everyone,” she said.