A generation ago, the only disaster school administrators and students prepared for were those of a natural variety. Kids evacuated for fire drills, ducked under desks for tornado drills and dropped, covered and held for earthquake drills. Nowadays these things seem as outdated as ringing the school bell and writing with chalk.
Beyond the fire drill
More and more school districts are reducing the number of fire and tornado drills and replacing them with lockdown drills that train students and staff to react to a school intruder, such as a shooter.
In Michigan, for example, state law used to require 10 fire drills annually. Gov. Rick Snyder recently signed into legislation House Bill 4713, requiring schools to conduct five fire drills, two tornado safety drills and three lockdown drills, up from two in 2006.
While no one discounts that natural disasters are a very real danger students should be prepared for, “You are way more likely to be a victim of school violence than you are a fire,” underscores Ed Verville, a consultant with Emergency School Safety Systems in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
According to the Education Commission of the States, over 20 states now require school lockdown drills.
A step further: ‘Active shooter drills’
Some schools are taking the lockdown drill a step further, staging what are known as “active shooter drills.” Illinois, Arkansas and Missouri each have laws on the books requiring school districts to hold at least one simulated shooter drill each year.
One Missouri high school conducted the drill after school hours, replete with students, most of whom were getting extra credit for a drama class, wearing fake blood and with law enforcement shooting blanks. The goal of the drills is to teach school faculty how to respond and act quickly in a shooter situation, as well as to give law enforcement practice in taking down active shooters.
Faculty and firearms
In the aftermath of the 2012 disaster in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 children and six adults were shot to death in a school-shooting rampage, there were loud and passionate calls for stricter gun control laws. However, resulting legislative action went largely in the opposite direction, going as far as to allow school personnel to carry concealed weapons on campus.
Texas, for example, is one of 18 states that currently permit adults to carry a concealed weapon on school grounds. But the state differs from several others in that the 2013 Protection of Texas Children Act lets schools designate one school administrator per 400 students to be a school marshal. The marshal, in addition to having a concealed weapon permit, must also undergo psychological evaluation and 80 hours of training at a police facility.
Schools of thought
At least some of these measures, particularly the carrying of weapons, have their detractors, notably the American Federation of Teachers. But in the absence of stricter gun control laws, schools must continue to adopt new strategies for keeping studies safe.