BUFFALO, NY – Long before a former student opened fire on his former classmates in Parkland, Florida, many school districts held regular shooting drills. These exercises, which sometimes included simulated gunshots and blood, proceeded without warning. .
The exercises began to take shape after the shooting of Columbine High School in 1999. But 20 years later, parents are increasingly wondering about some elements of the practice, including whether the exercises traumatize children .
April Sullivan was pleasantly surprised by her daughter's "I love your mom" text last May, even though she knew that eighth grade was not supposed to use her cellphone during her studies at Short Pump, Virginia. But she did not know that her child had sent her while she was supposedly hiding from an intruder. The girl did not know that the "blue code" alert was an exercise.
"To find out later, she sent this message because she feared for her life, did not suit me," Sullivan said.
The Henrico County Public Schools have since changed their way of conducting the exercises, stating in the beginning that the events are not real and warning the parents before or after the exercise, said the district spokesman , Andy Jenks.
This reaction highlights the challenges administrators face in deciding where to go in the name of preparation.
Thirty-nine states require safety drills, target practice or the like. According to the State Education Commission, other states have less explicit requirements or leave it to the districts. A Mississippi task force has proposed active shooter exercises twice a year.
However, even if the exercises become routine for many of the 51 million primary and secondary school students in the country, there is no consensus on how they should be conducted, experts said. For example, there is no data on whether a simulated exercise is more effective or whether a pre-announced exercise is taken less seriously than a surprise.
"There is an urgent need for reliable data on every issue," said Jeremy Finn, a professor at the University of Buffalo, who brought together experts from across the country to assess safety measures in schools during school holidays. 39, a conference in Washington, DC, in October.
After Columbine, the locks that involved locking the door and gently squatting out of sight became the norm. In 2013, the Ministry of Education recommended allowing staff the latitude to evacuate, barricade classroom doors or, as a last resort, to respond by throwing objects or throwing the attacker.
"Do you really want it to be your child who pulls the ball and ends up with a plaque in the school hall saying that he has fallen into a hero?" Asked Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, Nanette Adams's mother, who disagreed. with the decision to adopt a widely used safety protocol during an exercise in September at his 15 year old son 's high school.
The protocol is known as ALICE, which means alert, lock, notify, counter and evacuate.
"For me, it sounds like indirect admission from schools that they really have no control over who enters the building, and that the school security officer is not good enough. to ensure the safety of the place. the children responsible for doing so, "she said.
In 2014, the National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of School Resource Executives issued a joint directive that states that even though exercises have the potential to save lives, those that are not performed properly can cause physical and psychological damage to students, staff and students. the global learning environment. "
After publicly criticizing Short Pump and other unannounced drilling, the Virginia House of Delegates last month envisioned, but counterbalanced, a law requiring schools to inform parents in advance. High school teacher Schuyler VanValkenburg, the sponsor of the bill, said his opponents said the heads-up would hamper security by letting students take it less seriously.
"I think it's weird. They are very aware of what can happen nowadays. They see all the news. They see all social media, "said Sullivan, whose daughter refused to be interviewed by the Associated Press, but described the exercise for the Richmond TV station, WWBT, a few days later.
"I thought I was probably going to die that day," she said. "We hear the doorknob agitate up and down then we see the door open and our resource officer tells us that it's an exercise."
When his son's school fired a blank during an exercise, Adams asked if it was really necessary to expose the children to the sound of the shots. Others have complained that such realistic exercises can interfere with classroom learning even after the exercises have been completed.
Mo Canady, Executive Director of the School Resource Officer Group, recommends that Districts record the most intense exercises for staff only. As decision-makers, he said, "they need to know a little more about what it will give."
For students, the focus should be on exercises that will consist of listening to instructions and performing movements, such as traditional fire drills, he said.
"We have to be as prepared as possible," said Canady, "but that does not mean we have to terrify students to prepare them."