Education Unions Call for Rethinking School ‘Active-Shooter’ Drills

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School Active Shooter Exercise Photo by Samuel King Jr. via Flickr

The nation’s two largest education unions, with a combined membership of nearly 5 million, are calling on schools to “reassess” the use of lockdown drills and active shooter drills, according to a new paper released by the groups.

Joining with the gun control-advocacy group Everytown For Gun Safety, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), the groups argue that the drills may do more harm than good.

According to statistics cited by NPR, 95 percent of American public schools conduct some form of regular active shooter safety drill.

The group Moms Demand Action for Gun Safety in America, part of Everytown, argues that school drills are “unnecessarily realistic,” citing reports of drills where teachers are shot with pellet guns in an Elementary School in Indiana.

Other schools hire “masked gunmen” actors to make it feel more real. In other schools, “students as young as 3 and 4 years old [are] confined within a space for extended periods, and [officials] fail to inform children that they are in a drill until it is over,” the report details.

“When we have a fire drill in a school, we don’t set a fire in the hallway,” Moms Demand Action Founder Shannon Watts explained to NPR.

An eighth-grade student in South Orange, New Jersey, told The Trace in 2019 about her experiences during active shooter drills. She said, “I was genuinely not sure if I would finish the day alive.”

This student’s fear is shared across the country. In another incident in Tucson, Arizona, cited in the report, a mother describes the impact that lockdown and active shooter drills had on her young son.

“He started biting his nails and ‘refused to go anywhere alone, even to his room or a bathroom at home.’” the report details.

In the same sentiment, Joy Levinson, a clinical psychologist who serves elementary school students, described recently treating young “patients who had soiled themselves in schools because these drills made them fear going to the bathroom alone.”

Dr. Laurel Williams, chief of psychiatry at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, warns about the lasting psychological impact that scaring children can have.

“If you’re constantly given the viewpoint that the world is scary and unpreventable things happen, it pervasively makes us less secure as a society,” Dr. Williams explained. “We see everyone as suspicious, and it changes the way we act around people.”

Everytown, AFT, and the NEA all advocate instead for supportive trauma-informed training that’s designed for school staff and teaches them how to respond to active shooters. They also push for preventative threat assessments and expanded mental health services, as well as “spreading the word about secure gun storage at home,” NPR reports.

Overall, new guidelines these organizations recommend that were developed to be aligned with the National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of School Resource Officers, are:

      • “Drills should not include simulations that mimic an actual incident;
      • Parents should have advance notice of drills;
      • Drills should be announced to students and educators prior to the start;
      • Schools should create age and developmentally appropriate drill content with the involvement of school personnel, including school-based mental health professionals;
      • Schools should couple drills with trauma-informed approaches to address students’ well-being; and
      • Track data about the efficacy and effects of drills.”

Everytown’s full report can be accessed here.

Additional Reading: Activist Groups Mobilize Across Country Over ‘Unsettling’ Gun Violence

Andrea Cipriano is a staff writer for TCR

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