School districts in Illinois, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Washington have even started using mock shooters to make lockdown drills more realistic, the Associated Press has reported.
At an elementary school in the Bay Area, teacher Julia Gelormino has a lockdown “game” she plays with first-graders called hide-and-seek, NPR reported this year. The game starts with a voice on the intercom noting that “Dr. Lock” is in the building.
The kids then file into the bathroom one by one and crouch down, NPR reported. At one point in the radio program, the teacher admonishes a chattering child, “So right now, I don’t want to scare you but … if somebody was trying to harm us and you were making that much sound, guess where they’re going to go first? Here. So right now, you aren’t helping us to be safe.”
In New York City, public schools have lockdown drills twice a year, a schools spokeswoman told me. Teachers lock the doors, turn off the lights, and have kids move away from sight and stay totally silent.
When I was a kid in the ’80s, we occasionally had “tornado drills” that required us to crawl under our desks. We also had to walk briskly out of the building in a single-file line for fire drills, but our teachers never prepared us for the possibility of an armed intruder who would want to hurt us.
Of course, that was all before the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999. I spoke with elementary school principal Chris Swetckie, who says he can recall lockdown drills happening since at least 2003, when he was an assistant principal at a middle school.
These days, Swetckie is principal of South Carolina’s Howe Hall Arts-Infused Magnet School, which made the news for a dramatic school safety drill in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting last year. As part of the drill, a cop came to the school and pretended to be an armed, irate parent.
Swetckie and other grown-ups at the school pretended to be “victims” who were shot. Kids had to hide in corners of rooms or in a closet if one was available. Swetckie had to prepare kids as young as 5 or 6 for the drill, telling them that there are “bad guys” in the world and if one is ever at school “we play hide-and-seek.”
“It’s unfortunate that we have to do [the drills],” Swetckie acknowledged. But, he added, “Student safety is always at the top of our minds.”
Several parents thanked Swetckie for being proactive, but critics say realistic lockdown drills can scare children. Many news reports noted that Sandy Hook Elementary School had top-notch security before a gunman came in and shot 20 children, suggesting schools might be vulnerable to random acts of violence no matter how much they prepare for them.
“Lockdown drills are potentially frightening to students because there is so much attention to school shootings that it creates an illusion that such events are commonplace,” Dewey Cornell, a professor of education and clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia, told me in an email message.
Cornell added, “Restaurants have more shootings than schools, yet we do not practice shooter drills in restaurants and no one recommends arming waitresses.”
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