Active shooter drills at school: “Some of the kids are scared to death.”

By: - September 18, 2019 7:00 am

Live Active Shooter training drill at Ohio school. Screenshot, YouTube

School drills designed to protect students from shootings are in and of itself scary to schoolchildren, some parents and lawmakers say, with little kids in elementary classrooms frightened to the point that they need counseling.

Now, families and politicians are wondering if the so-called “active shooter drills” are too much for vulnerable kids, and whether schools should consider ways to reduce the number of drills that have become part of the education landscape.

Law enforcement officials are now looking at recommendations for state lawmakers.

The drills have come after a series of shooting massacres, from Colorado’s Columbine, to Connecticut’s Sandy Hook to South Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students and staff were killed by a shooter in February 2018.

In Hillsborough County schools doing active shooter drills, “Some of the kids are scared to death,” says State Sen. Janet Cruz, a Tampa Democrat who spoke about the issue at this week’s Senate Education Committee meeting.

Cruz said she’s been talking to a group of moms about how children have been reacting to the drills, and a couple of mothers said they have their students in counseling.

At issue is the number of drills in schools, which have varied by districts. Cruz said Hillsborough has been doing 11 active-shooter drills over the school year, which she thinks is excessive.

In Polk County, school officials told the Phoenix in an email that, “Each school is required to conduct two active shooter/active assailant drills within the first 30 days of each new school year and one each month thereafter while school is in session.”

So, 11 drills are done by each school per year in the district, according to the district’s Office of Safe Schools.

The Polk district said the drills take between one to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the school, and other issues. The district mentioned “lockdown drills” “heightened security drills” and “run/hide/fight training” twice per year.

The district did not provide more details about how the drills work, saying, “We cannot discuss specific security features or improvements as this could potentially compromise aspects of our security plans and procedures.”

Some schools around the country have published YouTube drills, such as a CBS program showing a drill for 4th graders at an Ohio school. It showed that an alert was announced on the intercom; the classroom door was locked; chairs and desks were used to block the classroom door, and students huddled together in silence in the back of the room.

Alina Font, a licensed psychologist from Tampa, is one of the women who has been in contact with state senator Cruz. She’s provided documents outlining concerns about the drills, as well as the recommendations from law enforcement officers testifying in August at the state’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.

The summary of concerns suggests that the increase in drills was connected to the interpretation of a law saying that active shooter drills would be conducted at least as often as other emergency drills, such as fire drills. That would amount to 11 drills per school year.

Because of school holidays, the active shooter drills are done in close succession. Concerns also relate to loss instruction time – several hours — when children must be involved in the drills.

The summary document also states that: “While we may not have research to dictate what the ‘magic number’ of drills might be, common sense should prevail when the mental health of our children is also at risk. We believe most educators and mental health experts would agree that it is unreasonably excessive to subject students as young as FIVE years old to active shooter drills ELEVEN times per year.”

The concerns also include insufficient training for educators and parents trying to mitigate “the mental health effects of subjecting students as young as FIVE years old,” to active shooter drills.

At the Marjory Stoneman Douglas commission meeting, the documents show that law enforcement officials proposed changes in the law related to the school drills. One change would involve six drills, with five of the drills being active threat/assailant drills and the sixth drill related to hazards such as a hurricane.

The commission will continue discussing the issue in October.

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Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.