Students Traumatized By Active Shooter Drills?!?

( – As the number of school shootings in the United States continues to rise, schools are taking various measures to protect their students. However, experts argue that these measures, such as active shooter drills and lockdown practices, could be causing harm to the mental health of American youth.

In 2022, there were 51 school shootings, affecting thousands of students directly. In contrast, around 95% of U.S. schools conduct shooter lockdown practices, impacting millions of students yearly.

Sarah Burd-Sharps, senior director of research at Everytown for Gun Safety, states that these drills can have a negative impact on students. She says, “The cumulative impact of shooter drills, lockdowns, metal detectors, armed teachers, and other school-hardening measures is an environment that feels inherently unsafe for America’s schoolchildren.”

A 2020 Everytown analysis examined millions of tweets and 1,000 Reddit posts before and after school lockdown drills using machine-learning psychological affect classifiers. The study found a 42% increase in anxiety and a 39% increase in depression related to these drills.

In New York, lawmakers are considering reducing the number of required lockdown drills per year from four to one, allowing parents the option to opt their child out.

Robert Murtfeld, a parent advocating for this change, says, “This is not about making anyone less safe — this is about being smart about what is the best mediated solution.”

Nancy Rappaport, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, believes many schools conduct lockdown practices poorly and without proper debriefing. This can lead to further trauma for high-risk students who have already experienced shootings or other traumatic events.

In 2022, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that school shootings were at their highest in 20 years but still represented less than 1% of U.S. gun deaths. So far, in 2023, there have been 21 school shootings, resulting in the death of eight children, including six at the Nashville school shooting in April.

Preparing for potential mass shooter events can make students feel unsafe in their schools. Younger children may not always be able to distinguish between a drill and a real threat. Rappaport explains that this can lead to trauma reactions, such as repetitive play, where children continually act out lockdown scenarios.

It is also unclear whether these drills are effective in real situations or if other school safety measures might be more helpful. Ron Avi Astor, a professor at the Luskin School of Public Affairs at UCLA, warns against turning schools into “mini-prisons” with more police, dogs, metal detectors, video cameras, and armed personnel.

Experts advocate for a more trauma-informed approach to school safety and addressing school shooting concerns. Rappaport suggests having a school threat-assessment team to discuss evacuation plans during emergencies but argues that actual drills may not be necessary. She compares this to airplane safety demonstrations, saying, “I’ve heard some people talk about, every time you get on a plane, people give you warnings about how to manage if there’s a plane crash, but they don’t do a simulated crash.”

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