As a kid, I remember filing out of my school in an orderly fashion once or twice a year for a fire drill. I remember kneeling in the hallway and covering my neck with my hands, which was supposed to protect me in the event of a tornado. The baby boomers had their duck-and-cover drills to practice avoiding nuclear bomb debris. And now our kids, worst of all, are practicing how to hide from someone who wants to shoot up them and their classmates.
In general, holding drills to prepare for emergency situations is a good thing. If you’ve practiced walking out of your classroom in a straight line when the fire alarm goes off, and you know you’re supposed to head to the other side of the playground to wait for the all-clear, things might seem less scary and more orderly if a kitchen fire were to actually break out.
But administrators aren’t pulling in fog machines to simulate smoke from a fire. They’re not blasting industrial-sized fans down the hallway so kids feel like they may actually blow away in a fake tornado. Active shooter drills, though, are becoming increasingly intense and realistic.
It’s no longer just about teaching the kids to shut off the lights and crouch behind the teacher’s desk, reiterated with a poem like this one, sung to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” as reported in the Washington Post:
Lockdown, Lockdown, Lock the door
Shut the lights off, Say no more
Go behind the desk and hide
Wait until it’s safe inside
Lockdown, Lockdown it’s all done
Now it’s time to have some fun!
Some schools are now taking the details of their drills much further, making them more “realistic” with students acting as victims covered in fake blood. Or, as The Atlantic reports, administration tricking students and teachers into thinking it’s not a drill at all:
At 10: 21 a.m. on December 6, Lake Brantley High School, in Florida, initiated a “code red” lockdown. “This is not a drill,” a voice announced over the PA system. At the same moment, teachers received a text message warning of an active shooter on campus. Fearful students took shelter in classrooms. Many sobbed hysterically, others vomited or fainted, and some sent farewell notes to parents. A later announcement prompted a stampede in the cafeteria, as students fled the building and jumped over fences to escape. Parents flooded 911 with frantic calls.
Later it was revealed, to the fury of parents, teachers, and students, that in fact this was a drill.
In case all of that wasn’t enough, the Dayton Daily News informs us that we’re now shooting blanks inside our schools “so students and staff can react as they would in a real world scenario.”
Such drills, unsurprisingly, are probably doing more harm to our kids than good. As the New York Times reports, child trauma experts say they don’t do much more than terrify children:
Psychologists and many educators say frequent, realistic drills contribute to anxiety and depression in children, and they have begun urging school systems to rethink active-shooter training for children and to teach preventive measures, like recognizing and seeking help for troubled classmates.
“The best way to make school safer is to focus on proven policies and programs instead of extreme drills that rob children of their belief that schools are in fact extremely safe places,” Shannon Watts, founder of the gun safety group Moms Demand Action, said in an interview.
Some states require schools to perform active shooter drills, but there is no standard federal procedure for these drills, only some general recommendations in a 2013 FEMA report titled Guide for developing high-quality school emergency operations plans: “To be prepared for an active shooter incident, schools should train their staff, students, and families, as appropriate, in what to expect and how to react. If students are involved, to select the appropriate exercise the school should consider the ages of the students.”
So although your kids’ school is likely conducting active shooter drills, how extensive or traumatic those drills are can vary widely. Some schools will give parents a heads-up in advance of a drill, and some won’t. Often, a parent first hears about the drill from their child after the fact.
Because school security drills differ so widely from district to district—and even among schools within the same district—it’s a good idea for parents to proactively reach out to school officials to learn the drill schedule and design specific to their school. Start with your child’s teacher or school principal and work your way up to the district’s safety officer or superintendent if you aren’t getting the information you need.
Knowing about the drills ahead of time, even if they seem fairly mild, can help you prepare your kids and answer any questions they might have. If the drills seem excessively stressful, though, try starting a dialogue with administrators, the school board or the PTA about how to keep these drills as low-stress as possible.
And if all else fails, you can opt out by keeping your kid home from school that day.
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