SPRINGFIELD, Mo. Drills preparing for the possibility of an active shooter are as much a part of school life as preparations for earthquakes, fires, or tornadoes as 95 percent of our nation's schools hold drills for lock down procedures in case of a violent intruder.
But the nation's two largest teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, want to eliminate or modify shooter drills. In a report issued this week they claim the drills can scare and stress out students and that there are better ways to prepare for such events.
"Especially in the early grades it can be traumatizing," said Phil Rumore, a Teachers Federation President.
The report recommends schools concentrate on teacher training to respond to active shooters rather than involving students.
It also issues guidelines for how to modify those drills.
--Drills should never simulate an actual shooting
--Give advance notice to parents, teachers, and students
--Work with mental health experts to create age-appropriate drills
--Track the effects of the drills
"We believe those are fair guidelines and we believe we strike that appropriate balance here locally," said Stephen Hall, the Chief Communications Officer for Springfield Public Schools. Representing the largest public district in the state, Hall said that Springfield schools modified their approach a couple of years ago and follow those guidelines including not reenacting violent scenarios that might scare students.
"There is a huge difference between a drill and a simulation. We do not and will not conduct simulations with our students," Hall said. "We have reached out to our local and state NEA and believe we all are on the same page. All this has to be a part of a multifaceted approach that includes expanding support for mental health and facility upgrades, cameras, and police officers. All of those things are important to making sure we can create the safest environment possible."
But there's no doubt the topic of shooter drills has a lot varying viewpoints.
"There's a big debate about this," admitted Amy Hill, the Director of School-Based Services at Burrell Behavioral Health, which works with a number of school districts in providing mental health counseling.
While research is not yet conclusive on the mental health effects of shooter drills, Hill said it varies from person-to-person.
"What we do know is this is all about perception," she said. "So what one kid might experience as traumatic another might not regardless of their age. What we would recommend is that a school district examine what sort of supports they have in place after they have an intruder or active shooter drill. There needs to be someone there to provide that mental support to help everyone be O.K. with what just happened."
"The worst time to plan for an event is when that event is taking place," said Burrell Safety Officer Mark Wilcox in pointing out that every school should have at least some form of agreed-on plan to deal with violence-related emergencies.
"I don't think just putting your head in the sand and hoping this will never happen will make it go away," he said. "But I don't think you need to go to the other extreme and have a plan in place that is so violent that it scares people. These procedures are not here to scare people. They're here so we can hopefully increase your ability to stay alive."