Making safety drills as realistic as possible without causing additional stress to staff and students was a topic of discussion Monday as district officials reviewed the latest security training exercises at schools.

As part of an update on the Stoughton Area School District’s ongoing ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate) training, buildings and grounds supervisor Luke Butz called ALICE “one of the most important pieces of our overall safety program.”

Butz, who recently completed certification to be an ALICE trainer, helped coordinate the “active threat drills” at each of the schools late last month and another at the beginning of the year.

“The whole premise is empowering all of our students and teachers to make their own decisions to be able to deal with a violent intruder, or any type of intruder within our buildings,” he said.

Feedback on both drills has inspired some changes, including the type of simulated weapons used. Board member Jon Coughlin said he’s heard reservations from some staff about the use of the simulated weapons.

Butz said past drills have included realistic-looking airsoft guns that shoot pellets and that those have changed since the first training.

Now, he said, training sessions use a simulated weapon that fires small Nerf balls.

“We will be using different training tools this year that won’t be quite as abrasive,” he said. “It’s not that we’ve had many incidents in the past, but we’re going to do some different things this year.”

Board member Steve Jackson asked how else the drills could stay realistic, and Butz said the simulated weapons are fired at a velocity “where someone can feel they’ve been hit.”

District business manager Erica Pickett, who is an ALICE trainer, said the intent of using simulated weapons isn’t to simply scare people, but to provide a more realistic scenario where there is “some sort of an indicator whether something has hit you.”

“You start that scenario where you do a traditional lockdown where you used to tell kids to hide under the desk with the lights off, and when you debrief, you ask people how many of you would have been hit in that situation, and it’s pretty much everybody,” she said. “As you progress through the (ALICE) training … its dramatic how few people are actually hit, even with the potential intruder being very close to them.”

Pickett said as a parent of two students in the district, she understands the concerns about the realistic aspects of the drills, but it’s part of today’s reality.

“This is the world our kids have grown up in,” she said. “You want to do what you need to do to stay safe. Get somewhere and stay safe.”

In general, the drills were “pretty effective,” Butz said.

“We got some decent feedback from those, and we want to continue to improve on those,” he said.

He noted the training is “tailored” to students, depending on their age range.

“Obviously we’re not training an elementary student or giving them the same information as we would at the high school,” he said.

Coughlin asked about the possibility of school board members participating in training sessions to “better understand what we’re voting on,” something board president Frank Sullivan said they were definitely welcome to. Pickett said the next staff training is set of the week of new teacher orientation in August.

“Anyone who wants to do that can go,” Sullivan said.

Email Unified Newspaper Group reporter Scott De Laruelle at scott.delaruelle@wcinet.com.