VALLEY, AL -- When is a can of beans more than just a can of beans?
When it's a weapon of self-defense for students to throw at an armed intruder who has just entered their school.
That's one scenario Valley, Alabama, officials are considering as part of their training to respond to school shootings.
Though it may strike some as an insignificant and perhaps even silly response to a deadly problem, it's no joke at W.F. Burns Middle School.
It's part of active shooter response training offered by the ALICE Training Institute, a company founded by a former police officer and former elementary school principal.
School officials have gotten some criticism for sending a letter to parents asking students to bring canned goods to attack would-be intruders.
"We realize at first this may seem odd; however, it is a practice that would catch an intruder off-guard," the letter reads, according to CNN affiliate WRBL. "The canned food item could stun the intruder or even knock him out until the police arrive. The canned food item will give the students a sense of empowerment to protect themselves and will make them feel secure in case an intruder enters the classroom."
Chambers County School Superintendent Kelli Moore Hodge acknowledges that the middle school didn't educate people properly before sending the letter home, but she says the cans are a very small part of the training.
"The major point of the training (which is called ALICE - Alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate) is to be able to get kids evacuated and not be sitting ducks hiding under desks," Hodge wrote in an email.
Even if you can't escape and are barricaded behind closed doors to avoid the shooter, there are still steps to take to increase your safety, suggests an Auburn University ALICE video. Auburn is providing the training to the school district.
Once the door has been locked and barricaded and students have moved to an area out of sight, students should have a plan if the attacker breaks into the room.
That's when canned goods and other classroom items come into play.
"Start gathering several items you can use to protect yourself. Every room has something you can use to distract and defend from the aggressors' attack," says the Auburn video's narrator. "Communicate with others around you and tell them your plan. Don't wait until the aggressor gets into your safe area to have a plan of action."
Students can throw books, book bags, computers and, yes, those canned goods to distract any aggressor.
By Katia Hetter