Some question shooting drills at school
BUFFA LO, N .Y. » April Sullivan was pleasantly surprised by an “I love you, Mom” text from her daughter last May, even though she knew the eighth-grader wasn’t supposed to be using her cellphone during school in Short Pump, Va. 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, activeshooter 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 twice-yearly active-shooter drills.
But even as the drills become routine for many of the nation’s 51 million elementary 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 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.
In 2014, the National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of School Resource Officers issued joint guidance that cautioned that while drills have the potential to save lives, those “not conducted appropriately” can cause “physical and psychological harm to students, staff and the overall learning environment.”
After public criticism of the unannounced Short Pump drill and others, the Virginia House of Delegates considered, but defeated, legislation requiring schools to give parents advance notification.