STONINGTON — With classes set to resume next week, teachers in Stonington spent Wednesday and Thursday running a series of drills for how to react to an attack by a gunman.
The drills, coordinated with and directed by members of the Stonington Police Department, reflect changes in the town’s school safety policy, according to Alice Sweet Dawe, principal of the West Vine-West Broad Street schools.
High school and middle school staff members participated in the drills Wednesday at West Vine Street School. Thursday was for the elementary school teachers. More than 100 employees of the town’s schools attended.
Each drill presented the teachers with a different scenario for how to respond to an armed intruder.
“Lockdown! Lockdown! Lockdown!” was the signal the police yelled out in a hallway to alert each classroom that a drill had begun. They then gave the teachers, about a dozen to each classroom, a minute or two to prepare for the worst.
“With the middle school we had some overachievers,” said Tom Paige, the Stonington police youth community officer. “The very first session they all ran out of the building and we had to go get them.”
Paige said he heard that the overachieving bunch also hit one of the shooter actors with a broomstick.
In the first drill Thursday, Dean’s Mill School teacher Kim McKee portrayed the shooter, using an motor-powered toy gun that shoots small yellow foam balls.
“Are you going to tell me when to leave each room?” she asked Paige.
Paige told McKee to enter each room, approach the “pile of people” in hiding and fire the foam balls, aiming for their thighs.
The police slapped two pieces of wood together and banged on doors and lockers to simulate gunshots in the hall.
McKee moved quickly and methodically from room to room, claiming several “victims” who had been directed to hide along part of a wall next to the door and on the other side of the hallway.
Each drill lasted about four minutes, and concluded when Officer Ed Cullen gave a blast from an air horn.
Later simulations made it harder for the shooter, played by a police officer, to hit victims. The teachers hid in each classroom’s bathroom in one. In another, they pushed desks, bookshelves and other furniture not nailed down in front of their classroom doors as a barricade to block entry.
Sometimes it worked. Other times the gunman was able to get off several shots before moving on.
In another drill, Cullen announced the shooter’s location over the public address system.
“The intruder is walking over to the old section of the building,” Cullen said twice over the intercom. That sent a group of about 20 teachers running down a hallway past the main office and out a rear doorway to safety.
After each drill, teachers and officers returned to the gym to review the response. They ran through several drills for two hours.
Dawe said the teachers in each school would perform “scaled down” drills with students within the first two weeks of school, as is required by law.
The key takeaway for the teachers doing the drills?
“You are going to be a survivor. All you’re gonna say is, ‘I’m gonna live. I’m going to get through this thing,’” Paige said. “You know that you’re going to survive, and you’re going to make sure your kids survive. That’s what we want you to do.”