Champaign Unit 4 Board Clarifies Active Shooter Drill Exemptions

September 10, 2019
 
Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb and Champaign Unit 4 Director of Achievement and Student Services seated at a table in front of microphones with Unit 4 staff seated around them.

Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb and Champaign Unit 4 Director of Achievement and Student Services Orlando Thomas present on the topic of active shooter drills in schools during a Unit 4 Board of Education Meeting held Monday, Sept. 9, 2019.

Lee V. Gaines/Illinois Public Media

The Champaign Unit 4 Board of Education clarified how parents can opt their students out of active shooter drills during a meeting held Monday night. 

A new state law requires students participate in at least one active shooter drill during the first 90 days of the school year. The law allows school staff to exempt certain students from the drill at their discretion. 

Unit 4 board members opted to take the advice of the district’s legal counsel, and allow parents to take their children out of school during the drills, exempt students who are already exempted from fire and tornado drills, and provide accommodations for students with individualized education plans.

Parents at the meeting expressed concerns that the drills could traumatize both students and staff. Dianne Gordon, a Unit 4 parent, told board members that her seven-year-old daughter was “hysterical” following a hard lockdown drill at her elementary school last year. 

Orlando Thomas, director of achievement and student services at Unit 4, explained that parents would be informed ahead of time when the drills would occur at each school building. 

“I think we’ve done a lot to try to help the adults ease their reservation about the training,” Thomas said.

“I did reach out to a parent I know who has been impacted by gun violence... and she said, ‘why wouldn’t we do this? Our kids need to know how to get out if something happens.’"

Amy Armstrong, Champaign Unit 4 Board of Education President

He said the drills would begin with the announcement: “this is only a drill, this is only a drill, initiate ALICE” referring to the widely used active shooter response training. 

“The word ‘active shooter’ will not be used at any campus,” Thomas said. He also confirmed that no one will play the part of an active shooter, and that no starter pistols would be used during the drill. Thomas said the drills would likely last about an hour from start to finish. 

Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb described the district’s active shooter preparation as being “woefully behind” other districts in the state. 

He said concerns about trauma are legitimate, “but at the same token, we have to be responsible and think about the 10,000 students that you’re responsible for and making sure we  create safe environments. And the possibility of these things happening when it comes to active shooter is a real possibility.”

Cobb said the drills will concentrate on the alert and evacuate components of ALICE training this year. He said they will differ from fire drills, during which students must be evacuated to designated locations away from school buildings.

“We would not want you to go across the street and stand out there because you would become more of a target,” Cobb said.

Thomas also said he met with three families directly impacted by gun violence. None were aware of the new law mandating student participation in active shooter drills, he said.

Not every parent can leave work, not every parent gets an hour of time that they can travel to a school, take their kid out for 60 minutes and travel back to work. They don’t have that kind of opportunity."Dianne Gordon, Unit 4 parent

Thomas said all of them agreed that students should participate in the drills.

Board president Amy Armstrong said she heard similar feedback.

“I did reach out to a parent I know who has been impacted by gun violence, not only in her own neighborhood but in front of her own home, and she said, ‘why wouldn’t we do this? Our kids need to know how to get out if something happens,’” Armstrong said. 

Following the board’s decision on the issue, Gordon, the Unit 4 parent, said she believes the district should still provide an option for parents who can’t take their children out of school. 

“Not every parent can leave work, not every parent gets an hour of time that they can travel to a school, take their kid out for 60 minutes and travel back to work,” she said. “They don’t have that kind of opportunity.”

Unit 4 staff said they plan to continue discussions about active shooter drills with parents over the coming year. 

An informational parent meeting about ALICE training is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 10 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Kenwood Elementary School. 

Follow Lee Gaines on Twitter: @LeeVGaines

Story source: WILL