Alachua County Public Schools update school security protocols


In 2006, an active shooter entered Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colorado. He held seven girls hostage and fatally shot one student. 

Her name was Emily Keyes. 

“I love u guys.”

That was the last text message Emily sent to her parents. 

Soon after, it would also become the name of a nonprofit foundation started by her parents later in 2006: I Love U Guys. 

Emily’s mom, Ellen Stoddard-Keyes, helps run the foundation. She’s also dedicated to heightening security measures on school campuses. She began volunteering at her childrens’ elementary school, and later, held a seat on the advisory committees of their middle and high schools.

Being around so often, Stoddard-Keyes raised questions about security measures being taken, or the lack thereof, early in 2006. Just months later, others noticed the validity of her concerns. 

“We didn’t know what to do with the nonprofit at first,” Stoddard-Keyes said. “But everyone kept throwing out school security ideas at us. So, we began to research.”

It didn’t take long for the couple to realize that not many action-based programs existed at the time. In 2009, the foundation put out its first action-based standard response protocol.

Action-based response protocols provide a clear, step-by-step instruction checklist rather than the binder of hypothetical scenarios that existed before. 

Since then, schools around the world have implemented this program. All 50 of Alachua County traditional and charter schools have enacted the action-based safety and security program as of the 2021-2022 school year. 

“We do not consider ourselves experts, rather avid students,” she said. “Things are always changing in terms of safety measures. Sort of on accident but also sort of intentionally, we wound up creating something that is very useful for schools – it’s not complex, it’s bite-sized.”

John-Michael Keyes, Emily’s father, is a programmer. He and Ellen used to own an advertising agency. They transitioned from that career into pursuing the I Love U Guys Foundation full-time. 

John-Michael wrote the code for the website, and together, the couple wrote the copy and made graphics for everything else. 

 “Our back-end skillset really made us look bigger than we were,” Stoddard-Keyes said.

The first step in laying the foundation for the organization’s new standard response protocol was to ensure that clear and concise communication was used – not code. The end-users – students – were kept in mind. Stoddard-Keyes said the goal is to empower  students to learn how to protect themselves in dangerous circumstances in a non-traumatic way. 

 The protocol is based on five actions: hold, secure, lockdown, evacuate and shelter. 

Following the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Alachua County Public Schools was mandated to create a security office, said Casey Hamilton, 55, the district security chief and police chief. 

When he came into this new position in 2018, the former security program ALICE was still in place. It was primarily designed for corporate settings, Hamilton said. 

He received feedback that ALICE could be intimidating and scary for elementary-aged children. However, he still wanted them to maintain safety on school campuses. 

 “The district works with four different law enforcement agencies, so it was difficult to present a unified training method to each of our agencies and officers serving our kids,” he said.

Hamilton knew that there was something better out there. He discovered and transitioned the district over to the I Love U Guys program.

In summer of 2021, ACPS school resource officers and administrators were trained by an I Love U Guys trainer. 

Cary Gallop, 54, a school resource deputy for Alachua County Sheriff’s Office based out of Idlewild Elementary School was one of those who went through this training. 

The I Love U Guys program goes beyond active shooter-based situations to provide a wider realm of school safety instructions. 

“After 33 years of being a cop, working with kids to make them feel safe and help them before things fall apart or get really bad, if possible, is really what makes my heart sing,” Gallop said. 

 The program has a different philosophy – one directed towards schools compared to other safety protocols – because it is designed to be non-threatening, Hamilton said.

The I Love U Guys program offers a simplified plan with plain language. For example, one of the response protocols – “lockdown”– is paired with the easy-to-remember phrase, “Locks, Lights, Out of Sight.” This ensures that students and teachers can remember what to do in a lockdown situation, even when in crisis mode. 

He said that any employee or transfer student would know what each word means and how to react to it because it is universal. 

“My attraction to the I Love U Guys program is especially the reunification side of things,” Hamilton said.

Getting a massive number of kids back with their parents safely and accounted for can be a cumbersome task, he said. He hopes to have the reunification part of the program put into place by next school year. 

“We don’t want anything stopping anyone from using it. We don’t need to put any roadblocks in the way,” Stoddard-Keyes said. “We have enough validation that this is successful, and it can be done without communication from us other than what’s on our website.” 

Being directly affected by school violence gave us a voice, she said. As long as we are helping and looking out for students, we are doing our job.

You can visit the program’s website at to download materials for free or request a trainer to visit your campus. 

About Emily Palazzotto

Emily is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing

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