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Evacuation At High Springs School Brings Changes To Protocol

The High Springs Community School is reviewing and tweaking its active shooter protocol after a lockdown and evacuation of its campus due to reported gunshots north of the campus on Jan. 11.

School Resource Officers Lawrence Downing and Jason Taylor are visiting classrooms daily to review and teach the changes to the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) protocol. Taylor is working in the middle school, while Downing focuses on the elementary school side.

Downing and Taylor also are creating weekly ALICE tips to be included during the school’s morning announcements.

The school enacted ALICE on Jan. 11 after four elementary school teachers and two after-school program employees reported hearing possible gunshots coming from the apartments and residential neighborhood across from the school on NW 198th Avenue.

Downing said after his investigation that the most likely scenario was a resident shooting for target practice in his or her yard.

The evacuation was successful in that more than 75 percent of the middle school class (about 200 students) and middle school faculty evacuated. The rest of the middle schoolers and all of the elementary school students locked-down inside the school.

Nearly all of the evacuees ran into Bailey Estates, a residential community east of the school and across NW 230th Street. No students or faculty were injured.

Many students and faculty hid in the backyards and houses of Bailey Estates residents,  Downing said.

However, some parents expressed concerns about the school campus not having enough safe exits and the fact that teachers and students had to take refuge in strangers’ houses.

The ALICE protocol trains students to flee from danger immediately in reaction to the news of an on-campus shooter. The response calls for students and faculty to evacuate through the nearest safe exit, but it also empowers them to make decisions based on the situation and their training in the ALICE program.

Many students jumped over fences, which worried some parents, including Blake Oswalt, the father of a High Springs middle school student.

“If they do evacuate to that side of campus, you’ve got to fight a bunch of 6- to 8-foot fences everywhere,” Oswalt said.

Stephanie Kuhn, whose daughter is a kindergarten student, said she found out about the lockdown and evacuation when returning to work from a late lunch. She drove past her daughter’s after-school care and noticed the bus hadn’t arrived. Seconds later, she received a text notifying her about the lockdown.

Kuhn attended a Feb. 5 PTSA meeting at which Downing explained the tweaks being made to the ALICE program.

“I think there’s always opportunity for improvement,” Kuhn said. “To continue to improve the system is only going to help the students, help the parents feel more at ease.”

This initiative not only will inform students and faculty, but also will help the officers learn about students’ concerns and questions.

“If the students have a question, they can ask their teachers," Downing said. "Their teacher will bring the question to me, and we’ll come to the student’s class and talk about it."

The changes to the ALICE protocol also include establishing rally points, such as homes of parents or local businesses, at which students and faculty can meet up after evacuating, Downing said.

He said some local business owners already have contacted the school administration expressing interest in being places of safe harbor for students and faculty in the event of another evacuation.

Jacqueline Moss McCall, a grandmother who had been waiting in the school pickup line during the January incident, had a view of Bailey Estates houses and said she couldn’t tell where the students and faculty were hiding.

“The kids did a beautiful job of doing what they had been told to do,” McCall said. “In fact, I was looking at the subdivision houses, and I never knew that the children were in the houses… You never saw movement in the house.”

The children and faculty stuck together and hid in groups, but Officer Downing said he’d prefer the parties to be larger.

“It’s to keep them more orderly, together,” Downing said. “Instead of having 15 groups of five, maybe have groups of 15.”

In addition to increased classroom visits, the school will create more specific points of exit for their students in the event of an evacuation, Downing said. This includes more gates and more designated exits for evacuations.

Mark is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.