STOCK Stoughton High School

Stoughton High School initially evacuated some of its students and staff Monday, Oct. 25, based on a report of a person brandishing a weapon. 

That evening, administrators said the protocol was a mistake. 

The school at first followed a protocol known as ALICE, developed in recent years to help authorities when an armed person is on campus. Instead, the school should have initiated a hold in place that keeps students and staff stay in classrooms with locked doors, principal Mike Kruse told the Stoughton Area Board of Education. 

High school administration had initiated the ALICE emergency protocol, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Isolate, Counter, Evacuate, before it had enough information from the Stoughton Police Department on what protocol should be used, an explanation on the top of the school district’s website stated Oct. 25.

“Once ALICE is initiated through the PA system, there is no override,” the district’s website stated. “As soon as possible, principal Mike Kruse got on the intercom to clarify that students and staff should hold in place and not leave their classroom.”

The person who was armed was apprehended before getting to campus, a News 3 Now story from Oct. 25 states.

Kruse confirmed during the school board meeting that the person who was thought to be armed had been on the high school campus, and that school staff had provided video surveillance of the person.

The Stoughton Police Department had informed the district of an armed person, but there had been a misunderstanding between the two entities, a Facebook post from the police department stated.

Board president Frank Sullivan said he’s had four high schoolers in the district at different times since 2007, and of all the emergencies or threats his children have dealt with in that time, this was the most rattled he’d seen one of his children.

“I can’t say I’ve seen one more shaken,” Sullivan said to Kruse. “I know this is true of you, Mike, but I want it to be said that there needs to be some significant concern for student trauma.”

Plans were in place to talk to students Tuesday, Oct. 26, during their second hour classes about the incident, Kruse said, and high school staff had been debriefed on the situation after the school day on Monday. School counselors would be prepared to talk to students about the incident in addition to addressing it in class, Kruse added.

“We’ll debrief with administration about safety protocol to make sure we’re making adjustments in our system to ensure it’s better in the future, let’s put it that way, and more streamlined,” he said.

Kruse said those staff and students who reacted to the faulty ALICE protocol did exactly what they had been trained to do, despite it being incorrectly initiated.

Student school board representative Hailey Sawyer told Kruse that she had heard from her high school peers that many of them didn’t know what to do because for some, the emergency protocols hadn’t been something they’d practiced. Kruse told her that the COVID-19 pandemic had prevented the school from hosting drills, but Sawyer asked for more drills in the future so that they’d know what to do.

“I don’t think we’ve ever practiced barricading,” she said. “I know COVID-19 is to blame, but a lot of people didn’t know what to do.”

Reactions from board members were mixed, as some urged the district to do better going forward, while others defended the district, saying administrators made the best decisions they could with the information they were provided by the police department.

Board member Mia Croyle spoke in the district’s defense, stating that it was important to remember the “bad guy” in the situation was not district staff, but instead it was someone who decided they should go toward the high school with a weapon.

“Yes, we as the school district have a responsibility always when an incident like this happens to examine our processes – I hear that there’s steps taken already to do that,” she said. “Our schools are doing the very best they can, every day, to keep our children safe.” 

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