As the school year meanders to a close, now is a good time for education departments across the land to make policy changes for the next year. One urgent step should be ending the insane lockdown drills our kids have to practice in their schools and tightening school security instead.
In New York City, the Department of Education implemented General Response Protocols that mandate that all public schools have four lockdown drills, in addition to fire drills, per year.
These “soft-lockdown” drills, ostensibly to prepare kids for a potential school shooter, require kids to hide in their classroom, sometimes in a closet, and remain quiet and out of the view.
It would be one thing to prepare the teachers and school staff for this kind of rare emergency. But having children hide in a closet and practice being quiet is at best a waste of time and at worst a way to emotionally scar the children we’re trying to shield. Holding these drills four times per year is ludicrous.
Anyone who has ever played “the quiet game” with kids knows they are generally terrible at staying silent. And even if the kids somehow manage to remain quiet for an entire practice drill, there is no guarantee they will do the same in an actual lockdown situation.
Then there’s the question of why we subject the kids to these drills at all. Despite the wall-to-wall hysteria over school shootings, it is extremely unlikely for any student to experience such an event.
A Washington Post column last year by David Ropeik, author of “How Risky Is It, Really?,” highlighted the rarity of a school shooting. Ropeik writes: “The statistical likelihood of any given public-school student being killed by a gun, in school, on any given day since 1999 was roughly 1 in 614,000,000. And since the 1990s, shootings at schools have been getting less common.”
Meanwhile, according to National Geographic, “the odds of becoming a lightning victim in the US in any one year is 1 in 700,000. The odds of being struck in your lifetime is 1 in 3,000.” And according to the National Safety Council your chance of dying in a motor vehicle accident are 1 in 103.
We don’t have our kids practice car accidents or what to do if struck by lightning, because we know that preparing for these unlikely events is impossible, and scaring our children over the possibility would outweigh any benefit the preparation might offer. Yet in schools, we have decided that terrifying our kids is OK.
Some schools have had drills with mock active shooters that have included shooting teachers with plastic pellets, which left actual bruises. Other schools have pretended that the drill was a real event leading kids to vomit or pass out from fear.
There is also evidence that these drills just won’t work in actual emergencies. American schools started implementing the drills after the 1999 Columbine shooting, yet we have had several school shootings since that time. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS in Florida had regular practice drill, yet the shooter killed 17 classmates without entering a single classroom. Following the shooting, Florida schools moved to do monthly “Code Red” drills — an insane 10 times a year.
Adding to the absurdity of these practice drills is that security at schools across the country is lax to non-existent. Current DOE policy in the city is that all doors in school buildings are locked except for the front door.
That’s nonsensical. Once an intruder is in the front door, it’s too late to stop him from wreaking havoc. The school-safety agents stationed at the front doors can only do so much. The Parkland shooter was no longer a student at the school when he was able to enter via an unlocked door.
Locking the front doors and equipping schools with cameras and buzzers is a far easier, and sane, fix than teaching 5-year-olds to hide quietly in closets.
We hear stories of children texting their parents goodbye messages during drills they imagine are real, or 12-year-olds writing out their wills, and we wring our hands that the world shouldn’t be this way. It shouldn’t but it also mostly isn’t. It’s our own fear-mongering that is damaging and terrifying our kids. Let the 2019 school year be more sane. End the drills.
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