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‘Schools should not be a scary place’: Teachers' unions, advocacy group say active shooter drills do more harm than good

School resource officers disagree, saying they are essential
Posted: 6:27 PM, Feb 11, 2020
Updated: 2020-02-11 20:30:03-05

Schools should be a safe place; everyone can agree on that.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. School shootings have left innocent teachers, staff members and students dead over the years. About 95 percent of all public schools in the United States now have some sort of lockdown drill in place, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the advocacy group Everytown For Gun Safety (Everytown) have taken a stance against active shooter drills, and are asking schools and districts to rethink how lockdown drills are done.

“Given growing concern among parents, students, educators, and medical professionals about the impact that active shooter drills can have on student development, Everytown, AFT, and NEA do not recommend these drills for students and believe schools should carefully consider these impacts before conducting live drills that involve students and educators,” the statement read.

You can read their full stance here.

The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) disagrees, saying in a statement Tuesday that active shooter drills are important for preparedness.

“Our joint guidance points out that regular practice helps participants develop readiness and quickly access and apply knowledge,” NASRO executive director Mo Canady said. “It also makes clear that such practice must be appropriate to individual development levels and take into consideration prior traumatic experiences, special needs, and personalities.”

It’s a balancing act, said Brad Asay, the President of AFT Utah.

“Faculty and staff should be trained and highly trained to deal with trauma, to deal with any of those situations, and not necessarily is it a good idea to bring students into that kind of planning or that kind of training,” he said of active shooter drills.

These types of drills can do more harm than good and there is little evidence that proves these type of drills involving students are effective in saving lives during an emergency, Utah Education Association President Heidi Matthews said.

“As educators, our number one priority is ensuring our students’ safety and well-being. We want to make sure we keep them safe in a way that does not traumatize them. Sadly, too often that is exactly what has happened with the active shooter drills happening in schools across the country,” she said.

The groups ask that if schools do have active shooter drills, that at least these six suggested stipulations are used:

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

NASRO offered their own set of guidelines Tuesday:

  1. Prior to any drill, staff should be trained to recognize common trauma reactions.
  2. Adults should monitor participants during the drill and remove anyone exhibiting signs of trauma.
  3. After drill completion, staff and students should have access to mental health support, if needed.
  4. Drill participation should never be mandatory, and parental consent should be required for all students.
  5. A communications plan should give all participants advance warning and the ability to opt out and/or provide feedback.

Most parents who spoke with FOX 13 News reporter Sydney Glenn, both online and person, think that the drills are important.

“I think its good preparation. We don’t live in a safe world, and it's important they understand — not the full extent of the evil that’s out there in the world, I think that’s harmful — but if they are prepared for something that could be happening to them, then they will be prepared to handle it,” Kayla Whittle said.

While Whittle said her kindergartener is a sensitive child and has nightmares about the villains in Disney movies, she was not scared after her lockdown drill.

“There was a lot of curiosity. She had a thousand questions, a thousand questions and we had some really good discussions about there are some bad things that can happen,” she said.

Other parents, like Shannon Rinhart, who has two small children, said it's something she thinks about knowing her kids will be in school soon, but wants to make sure it’s presented the right way.

“I think they should teach it, I just don’t know if it should just be the teacher or the kids, or both,” she said.