Apart from the devastation to communities left in the wake of deadly school shootings in US history, schools all over the country have had to significantly reconsider safety protocols and security presence. From a business perspective, these tragedies fueled the multi-billion dollar security industry to shift more marketing focus toward school districts that, expectedly, drew more national, even federal, funding to keep children in America safe.
The security industry’s various marketing pitches to the school sectors had the same chilling yet seemingly effective bottom line: you could be next. One of the earliest, most common reactions among schools across the nation was to effect active shooter drills as part of its disaster response strategies.
What school officials need to remember, though, is that school safety involves a lot more than just knowing how to act in the face of school shootings. Substance abuse, gang wars, bullying, and other criminal acts within any school system affect the safety of all students. And this insecurity has been found to correlate directly with student performance.
School safety is achieved when students are protected from harassment, violence, threat, substance abuse, and bullying in the school environment and all school-related activities. Students’ physical and emotional safety in schools has been directly linked to their academic outcomes. Students who have been victims of harassment, whether emotional or physical and those who’ve been involved with illegal substances have been found to have higher risks for low attendance, poor grades, and dropouts.
These mentioned have already been long-standing challenges met by most, if not all, schools. While natural calamities already bear a significant impact on schools and students’ physical and mental well-being, having to confront man-made disasters such as school shootings can truly take their toll.
In recent years, active shooter drills quickly caught on as schools’ main safety measure for what appears to be happening more and more: school shootings. It is unnecessary and understandable, though it might seem, active shooter drills are being associated with higher anxiety levels among students, not to mention the danger that such exercises are actually teaching potential shooters how to go about the crime more effectively.
A recent report involving more than 100 schools and close examination of social media posts by the millions find at least a 40% increase in stress and depression among students and other individuals after experiencing active shooter drills.
School officials are being called on to conduct active shooter drills better, questions of efficacy aside. It is recommended that such drills not simulate an actual incident but can be improved by:
- Providing notice for planned drills
- Implement age-appropriate procedures and content, as consulted with mental-health professional personnel
- Process drills with the guidance of trauma experts
- Diligently tracking effectiveness data
Many advocates believe that active shooter drills should be approached as an emergency readiness procedure anchored on mitigating trauma instead of instigating it further with fear techniques that potentially damage a child’s mental well-being. Those who oppose active shooter drills are lobbying for stricter gun laws and more meaningful prevention of gun violence.
Should We Rethink Active Shooter Drills in Schools?
More than 90% of schools in the US implement active shooter drills, including lockdown protocols among their students. Many citizens oppose this practice because it has not been proven to be effective in protecting the school community during incidents, much less actually preventing such incidents from taking place.
Instead of active shooter drills, it is believed that creating and implementing more character education programs centered on teaching emotional and social skills will contribute more to improving students’ safety, both physical and emotional. Instead of teaching children how to run and hide behind barricaded doors, children should be taught social and emotional skills like anger management, conflict resolution, and healthy communication. Research has found such programs effective in improving socio-emotional skills while diminishing the frequency and severity of behavioral difficulties.
Heads of different schools are being more vigilant about student safety, taking advantage of new surveillance and interoperability communications technologies as afforded by the reinforced funding from national and federal agencies.
Instead of highlighting active shooter drills and lockdown procedures as the leading preparedness exercise in school communities, it might be better to invest more in community awareness on responsible gun ownership, tools such as CCTV cameras and school safety alert systems, and fostering ties with local law enforcement for increased visibility and availability.
Schools in the US are safer than ever, having experienced tragic school shootings in recent history. However, a survey shows that 1/3 of parents are still afraid for their children every day. Managing school systems these days is more challenging. Still, it can be streamlined by remembering to view emotional and mental safety together with the physical while benefiting from available technology and community involvement in this crusade for genuine safety for our children.