Par­ents ques­tion if shoot­ing drills trau­ma­tize stu­dents

Rome News-Tribune - - NEWS - By Carolyn Thomp­son


Long be­fore an ex-stu­dent opened fire on his for­mer class­mates in Park­land, Florida, many school dis­tricts con­ducted reg­u­lar shoot­ing drills — ex­er­cises that some­times in­cluded sim­u­lated gun­fire and blood and of­ten hap­pened with no warn­ing that the at­tack wasn’t real.

The drills be­gan tak­ing shape af­ter the Columbine High School shoot­ing in 1999. But 20 years later, par­ents are in­creas­ingly ques­tion­ing el­e­ments of the prac­tice, in­clud­ing whether the drills trau­ma­tize kids.

April Sul­li­van was pleas­antly sur­prised by an “I love you, Mom” text from her daugh­ter last May, even though she knew the eighth­grader wasn’t sup­posed to be us­ing her cell­phone dur­ing school in Short Pump, Vir­ginia. But she did not know that her child sent it while sup­pos­edly hid­ing from an in­truder. The girl didn’t know the “code blue” alert was a drill.

“To find out later she sent that text be­cause she was in fear for her life did not sit well with me,” Sul­li­van said.

Hen­rico County Pub­lic Schools have since changed the way they con­duct drills, mak­ing clear at the start that the events are not real and no­ti­fy­ing par­ents as the drill be­gins or right af­ter, dis­trict spokesman Andy Jenks said.

The back­lash un­der­lines the chal­lenges ad­min­is­tra­tors face in de­cid­ing how far to go in the name of pre­pared­ness.

Thirty-nine states re­quire lock­down, ac­tive-shooter or sim­i­lar safety drills. Other states have less ex­plicit re­quire­ments or leave it to dis­tricts, ac­cord­ing to the Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion of the States. A Mis­sis­sippi task force has pro­posed twiceyearly ac­tive-shooter drills.

But even as the drills be­come rou­tine for many of the na­tion’s 51 mil­lion ele- men­tary and sec­ondary pub­lic school stu­dents, there is no con­sen­sus on how they should be con­ducted, ex­perts said. No data ex­ists, for ex­am­ple, to show whether a drill with sim­u­lated gun­fire is more ef­fec­tive or whether an ex­er­cise that’s been an­nounced in ad­vance is taken less se­ri­ously than a sur­prise.

“Some hard data on each ques­tion are needed with ur­gency,” said Univer­sity at Buf­falo pro­fes­sor Jeremy Finn, who gath­ered ex­perts from around the coun­try to eval­u­ate school se­cu­rity mea­sures at a con­fer­ence in Washington, D.C., in Oc­to­ber.

Af­ter Columbine, lock­downs that in­volved bolt­ing the door and crouch­ing qui­etly out of sight be­came the norm. In 2013, the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion rec­om­mended giv­ing staff lat­i­tude to evac­u­ate, bar­ri­cade class­room doors or, as a last re­sort, fight back by throw­ing things or rush­ing the at­tacker.

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