Is AAP right in saying active shooter drills are traumatizing children?
- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said that active shooter drills can cause students psychological harm and may even hinder the decision making of school faculty in real crises.
- There are various methods for active shooter drills: computer-generated models or in-person drills, but with different levels of reaction: to hide, run, or fight.
- After the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Denver that left a teacher and 12 students dead, schools across the United States began conducting such drills.
- The likelihood of a public school student being killed by a gun, in school, on any given day since 1999 was roughly 1 in 614,000,000.
- By the early 1950s, schools across the United States were training students to dive under their desks and cover their heads to prepare for atomic bomb threats. The infamous simulated duck-and-cover drills channeled a growing panic over an escalating arms race.
Since the Columbine shootings in 1999, the US has experienced 304 fatalities occurring during attacks on schools. But the traumatizing effects of active shooter drills now threaten to toxify the academic experience, transforming it into a source of anxiety. The AAP is not alone in voicing concerns about active shooter drills. They're joined by the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and Everytown for Gun Safety.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 2015-2016, 92% of US schools hosted active shooter drills even though only .02% of school shootings occur. And these drills are required by law in more than 40 US states. Some drills involve the use of fake blood and blanks to simulate actual gunfire. Children are impressionable. They absorb what they experience. If that experience is to include active shooter drills, it's essential proper consideration is given to the children's emotional state. Students' preparation for the inherent trauma of these drills is crucial to safeguarding their mental health and overall well-being.
Federal recommendations offer no template for running practice drills, and the conduct of drills vary vastly from state to state. Everytown for Gun Safety joins the AFA and the NEA in recommending that students not be compelled to participate in shooter drills due to the trauma experienced by many of them, especially special needs students. These groups also recommend three things: an end to lifelike simulations, mandatory parents-notification of upcoming drills, and advanced communication to students of future drills, specifying they are not real-life shootings in progress.
Regardless of how much we wish it were otherwise, tragedy is woven into human experience. As we're all aware, sadly, schools are not exempt from this. Even though the likelihood of any given school being part of an active shooter situation isn't overwhelming, it is possible, and both students and faculty/staff should have the opportunity to prepare for it.
The AAP's recommendation to cease active shooter drills removes agency from both students and the adults who work with them. While some schools have conducted overly 'realistic' drills with makeup simulating gunshot wounds, conducting drills well can be empowering for those involved. Children today are already aware of the potential threat. Providing them with knowledge for how to deal with incoming threats, rather than creating more fear, these drills will instill confidence should the need arise. And in the likelihood it doesn't arise, those individuals are better positioned to handle later threats assertively, either helping diffuse the situation or respond decisively.
Multiple qualified companies across the country conduct active shooter drills for schools. Their knowledge and expertise with firearms should be utilized. They can provide information before a drill to help those involved respond in ways to minimize danger as much as possible while facilitating (age-appropriate) conversations with children. Families should be notified before the first drill, but not given the ability to opt-out. Mental health professionals should be on-hand during the training should their assistance be needed. No one can reasonably be insulated from everything dangerous. They can, however, learn invaluable skills to deal with dangers that arise.