CHAMPAIGN — School board members are set to vote Monday on a plan for drills about shooters on campus with revisions that parents say are partially a result of their efforts.
The revised plan to implement the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) drill includes adding a social worker and parents to the district’s crisis-planning processes and a commitment to only have one drill this school year, which will be announced in advance.
Those changes mirror ones pitched in multiple, months-long conversations between parents and district officials and documented in a formal letter to the district signed by more than 100 parents that notes “concerns about ... Unit 4’s crisis plan.”
Parent Amy Aviram said those concerns rose after a reunification drill last year where South Side Elementary students were evacuated from the school and taken by bus to Memorial Stadium.
“The more we asked questions, the more concerned we became with the plan,” she said. When they compared it to research on the subject, “we were concerned that Unit 4 wasn’t really following best-practice guidelines and sort of doing things that were contrary to the trauma-informed principles they’ve been telling parents and staff they want to utilize. ... It felt like at the district level, it was like they hadn’t thought about these things.”
When some parents discovered that a September 2018 draft of the crisis plan called for two ALICE drills — one announced and one unannounced — they wondered why both were needed. And as they did more research, they wondered how students and staff would benefit from the unannounced one.
“Unannounced drills violate the best-practice standards of professional organizations such as the National Child Traumatic Stress Network and Safe and Sound Schools,” the letter read. “Additionally, experts suggest that surprise drills can desensitize students to a real incident. They are inappropriate for all children.”
The letter also noted that state law only calls for schools to conduct one drill with law-enforcement officials every year.
“It is unclear why Unit 4 mandates a second drill. There is no evidence-based research that supports this decision,” the letter said.
Superintendent Susan Zola said Thursday that for the 2019-20 school year, there will be no unannounced drills — a change from the original plan presented to the school board last year.
“Part of the board’s job is to respond to stakeholders, so this year’s drill will be announced,” she said, adding that that “is as far as we can commit.”
Prior to parents’ concerns being raised, South Side parent Karen Johnson said it had been difficult to know whether the plan outlined in September could be changed.
“I think a big component is the communication — it’s been hard to see if it’s deliberately fluid or if it’s changing as you’re asking questions,” she said. “I think the fluidity is a good thing in that it signifies that the district is willing to reconsider and change things as necessary.”
Better communication is another request parents are seeking from the district; in their letter, they said officials should be using “multiple channels (e-mail, backpack letter, district social media, etc.)” to give detailed information about the drills.
They said they haven’t yet seen that to their satisfaction.
“The parents and the entire community have every right to find out what the plans are,” said Edison parent Leslie Reagan. “How they plan to do any kind of drill for active shooters, and how they plan to educate students and teachers for anything like that — and how they plan to address the trauma of practicing and discussing it. We deserve answers and we deserve plans.”
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Zola said after Monday’s meeting, the district will “send out communication” related to its plan to families.
Reagan added that there were also concerns about “volunteer parents in the school” regarding the drills.
Like staff and teachers, “they, too, are being asked to play this role of defending the school and the kids,” she said.
Zola said the new plan built in “optional training for families or community members to participate if they’re really interested in what that drill looks like.”
And in response to calls for “mental-health professionals and parent representatives” to be appointed to the district’s crisis team, Zola said the district is considering adding a social worker and parents.
Parents said the new plan may be a start to addressing concerns they have been raising for a while.
“It’s been several months of trying to have meetings with different people in the district,” Aviram said. “I was surprised that we needed to spend as much time as we did to encourage what I would consider very common-sense suggestions.”
Said Johnson: “The reason we got to where we are now is incidental things that have happened. It’s a result of our own digging and a lot of effort on our part. We’ve spent a lot of time asking questions, re-asking questions — it’s not been easy to get these answers. I don’t think it should have to be that hard to figure out what is happening in the schools.”
On Monday, parents will find out whether all five of their requests — which include revising the ALICE presentation to students to be more “developmentally appropriate” and adding an “opt-out” option — have been incorporated and whether the board will approve the revision. Zola said the district is looking at revising the student presentation, as well as starting the opt-out option with “students with Individualized Education Plans or 504s or students who have sensory concerns.”
“I’m optimistic that the district and the board were willing to look at some suggestions from parents,” Aviram said. “I would hope they would view family members as partners and not in an adversarial way. In a way, I’m cautious because I haven’t seen the full plan, but I am hopeful that it will include these suggestions, which I do think make the plan better.”