School policies for gun violence are a band-aid for a bullet hole. We need to prevent gun violence upstream. Prevent it from even being a conversation. But, this is where we find ourselves as parents today. So, here we go. Parents, including myself, are yearning to do
"a large study found active shooter drills in high school increased fear, inflated perceptions of risk, and decreased perceptions of school safety. These feelings lasted for years—through college"
That's the winning data for me to say we should forego such drills. They rob our children of the safe, protected feeling they need to thrive and it's the job of parents to provide. Making our schools into fortresses is similarly harmful.
My son is 5 years old. His daycare does active shooter drills. His anxiety and number of nightmares have increased dramatically, and he now refuses to sleep in his own bed because he’s equally scared someone is going to break into our house to kill us. I definitely think active shooter drills are detrimental to kids already prone to anxiety at a minimum.
"Kindergarteners are more likely to follow instructions and stay quiet after implementing active shooting drills at schools."
I was near Kindergarten age when a shooter entered our school. I think the fact that our school was in tornado country, and so had tornado as well as fire drills, helped kids' preparedness. Both drills stressed the importance of calm, quiet obedience to teachers' instructions – that, to get us to safety, teachers would need to be alert for sounds that might be easily masked if we made noise. And unlike fire drills, which practice evacuating the building, tornado drills practice seeking shelter within the building.
If children practice two types of drills, one for evacuating the building and one for seeking shelter within it, and teachers practice the specifics of how to modify each basic drills to face emergency situations (maybe earthquake evacuation is different from fire evacuation; shooter and tornado shelter are different), that would give kids the expectation that emergencies could involve either evacuation or sheltering, and practice with calm, silent instruction-following during an emergency without focusing the kids on the threat of violent aggression.
Of course, not all schools are in tornado country. Still, tornadoes do occasionally happen anywhere in the continental US ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tornadoes_in_the_United_States#/media/File:Tornadoes_in_the_United_States_1950-2019.svg ) – and maybe there's another excuse for shelter drills that's less threatening than shooters or air raids would be.
Seems strange that birth causes such a dramatic shift in the value placed on each life.
Thank you for this post and your insight into this situation.
I'm a retired cop in Oregon. I was working in a neighborhood jurisdiction to the the Thurston School Shooting in May, 1998 (my county agency handled the homicide investigation at the shooter's residence where he had killed his parents and set explosive booby-traps). Columbine happened less than a year later, and the biggest difference between Thurston and Columbine was the AR-15s deployed at Columbine and the .22 rifle employed at Thurston; had the Thurston shooter been armed with an AR-15, the death toll would have been exponentially higher (including one co-worker's child who survived being shot in the head; she would not have survived had the round been the .223 from an AR rather than the .22 LR (long rifle) fired from the .22 rifle.
I was involved in some of the first training reframing law enforcement response to an active shooter. "Contain, isolate, and negotiate" was replaced with "form a hasty team as soon as you have at least 3 people and move to locate and eliminate the shooter(s)." All of our local agencies used roughly the same plan so that multi-jurisdictional responses could be utilized. The first local school trainings in "active shooter" situations began just before I retired in 2012, mostly as a response to the shooting at Sandy Hook. At that time, I was a contract deputy in a town of about 5,000 with one each elementary, middle, high, and private Christian grade 1-8 school. I was not involved in delivery of this training, as it was a "specialty training" that had been developed and was delivered outside of my cadre of use of force instruction.
I had the opportunity to talk with all four principals following their first active shooter trainings; both elementary schools did NOT have role players and were more of an emergency preparedness type of training. The middle school and high school did, although there weren't any "sound effects" with it, they did introduce the concept of armed officers moving through the building, and what they would need to do to be "as safe as you can be." Following that training, my conversation with the principals of those schools led me to believe that the generalized "emergency response" training was as helpful and less psychologically damaging that the specific "active shooter" training was.
I have been an avid proponent of making law enforcement training as realistic as it can be, and was instrumental in getting our department to utilize scenario-based training as an integrated concept across the firearms group, the vehicle operations group, and the use of force group. We delivered multidiscipline based training that involved shoot/don't shoot scenarios, threat on threat training (using Simunition rounds; essentially rounds that were small paintball rounds that could be fired from a modified barrel from the duty weapon. That makes sense for those of us going in harms way but little sense for those trying to learn to count or understand algebra.
As someone who works in a middle school, I can tell you that at least in my school these drills DO stress many students, although not all students, obviously, are adversely affected by them. But the ones who are tend to remain stressed for the rest of the day, and often have a hard time returning easily to the school/classroom routine after the drill is over. It's disruptive to their routine, and a number of the kids worry about when the shooter will come for real. It's one thing to train the teachers on what to do if there's an active shooter situation, but the all-school drills are a rotten thing to put kids through on a 5-times-a-year basis. Maybe once a year, but even if we need to conduct them, we do not need to conduct them multiple times a year.
The far right *wants* a terrified, militarized public. They love these shootings.
I remember the nuclear attack drills as an elementary school student in the ‘50’s. Our understanding of the reality of nuclear attack effects and a post-attack survival situation was beneath pathetic. But it did serve us in becoming dedicated Cold Warriors. At this stage, I don’t think that provided significant benefit.
So heart-breaking. I’m so sorry that parents have to have this in the back of their minds every time they drop their children at school. It’s appalling that kids should have to have that awful level of stress put on them by having these drills, then seeing on the news how important it might be. How many kids must feel so anxious about going to school. There’s enough pressure on children already, without people who are more concerned about what happens before they are viable, than their lives being worth giving up their own toys after they are born.
Thank you Katelyn for giving us the "science " behind active shooter drills. However, I will weigh in on the trauma caused to our children does NOT, I repeat, does NOT justify what I have experienced as a school volunteer involved in those drills. And you actually verified what I, as a Mom and volunteer, have seen as a result of the drill. Sure, kids know what they're supposed to do and get it, but even more distressing is the stress and fear that does not go away in a day or a week..... These drills are not conducted like fire drills where calm demeanor is prevalent- i.e., please calmly and quickly get in line and let's move. The very fact that lights are turned off is enough to scare the kids, let alone the pretend racket of a shooter in the building. My position is STOP this mental health threat and find a better way! Oh, I don't know, maybe better gun purchase background checks, prohibit sales of automatic weapons (no one needs an AK-15), develop a staff focused program.. .whatever....because sitting in a locked room in the dark with a bunch of 6 year olds silently crying in my arms just doesn't seem like the right response to me ‼️‼️‼️
Perhaps tangential but possibly for consideration. A key sentence that stood out to me was this:
"Although firearms are the leading cause of death in children, this is because of homicide and suicides, rather than mass shootings."
If there is relevant interest and YLE has a view on this, it could be very interesting to hear the science behind HOW and how well people assess risks. For instance, I think it's more likely that a person could die in a car accident, or from the flu, than a mass shooting. Yet it's the latter event that generates much more angst. I think the psychological science shows humans are not necessarily that good at reality-based assessment of (or emotional responding to) risks.
If this is an epidemiological concern, I'd love to hear YLE weigh in on this.
I was a child during the Cuban Missile Crisis. My hometown was deemed HIGH risk of attack due to chemical factories that made rocket fuel. We has bus evacuation drills and were given dog tags to wear daily. At 70, I occasionally still have nightmares of my mother dying at home alone while we are all bussed to a ‘safe place”. Was it mentally cruel, unhealthy? Yes. Was there a better alternative??????
Another option, for some: leave this infinitely troubled and sad country. Take our kids somewhere where it is still safe to be a kid. There are lots of other countries where that is possible.
I'm a retired elementary educator who was required by my district to participate in a staff only active shooter drill that involved our local police officers pretending to be shooters. We had to barricade ourselves in classrooms while the "shooters" ran through the school with airsoft rifles, shouting obscenities. It was horrifying and I don't think it better prepared me for a real situation. In every building in our district an educator fell or got injured (not by the shooter) during the training that year; mostly from falling. A teacher in my building broke her ankle when she slipped on the floor and had to wear a cast at her wedding a few weeks later. The secretary in another building was out of school for a whole semester due to her injuries from falling during the drill in her school. In my state, there is talk of arming teachers in their classrooms.
I do believe our district has a great partnership with law enforcement in our community, and we have resource officers in our schools who truly care about kids. I think they are all working together to keep kids safe. I applaud the partnership; I just don't believe that active shooter drills achieve the desired goal and that the cost is too great. It's "security theatre" that plays to a certain contingent of the public.
I suspect the frequency of firearms deaths among children reflect accidents at least as much as the homicides and suicides mentioned in this article. There are a tremendous number of these incidents, ranging from toddlers picking up handguns that they naturally point at themselves and squeeze the trigger with their thumbs, to teenagers messing around with a gun at a party, not knowing that even when they remove the magazine there is still a round in a chamber. These things happen ALL THE TIME. We would save more lives with strict laws around proper storage of firearms, as the State of New Mexico has just instituted. Safeguarding children from firearms accidents would have the secondary benefit of making it more difficult for more malevolent kids to get their hands on a handgun.
As a teacher it is gut wrenching to do these drills with students and thankfully we only turn out lights and stay quiet. We do get training every year as professionals, sickening that this is where we are. Thank you for all the information and resources you put in here.