Last month, a principal in Winter Haven, Fla., was suspended for allowing police to stage an unannounced “school shooting drill” in his school’s classrooms:
It took frightened teachers, students and parents all by surprise last week when armed officers swept through classrooms with guns drawn during the drill at Jewett Middle Academy Magnet School in Winter Haven.
Now, there’s fallout. Principal Jacquelyn Moore has been suspended and a school resource officer has been reassigned to road patrol. It sparked an internal investigation and changes to district policy.
Superintendent Kathryn Leroy is apologizing to students and parents for the scare at the school and claiming the principal used bad judgement, when allowing officers to use guns during the drill. Leroy promises it will never happen again.
Parents say it better not. “I have never requested an active shooter drill be performed with students present and officers having weapons in their hands,” says Leroy.
Leroy told school board members even she didn’t know that a school resource officer would draw his loaded pistol, and a patrol officer would be armed with an AR-15 during the unannounced lockdown drill at Jewett Academy.
It had students ducking for cover as if an active shooter was in the building. Parents were never notified.
That no one involved even considered the unnecessary terror the drill would inflict on students demonstrates just how ridiculous the panic over these shootings has become. And it isn’t just in Winter Haven. Consider this utter insanity in Troy, Mo.:
In a cramped, carpeted amphitheater in the basement of Troy Buchanan High School, 69 students are waiting to die.
“You’ll know when it pops off,” says Robert Bowen, the school’s campus police officer. “If you get engaged with one of the shooters, you’ll know it.”
“When you get shot, you need to close your fingers and keep ’em in,” adds Tammy Kozinski, the drama teacher. “When the bad guy and the police come through, they’ll step all over you, and who will be saying they’re sorry?”
“Nobody!” the students cry in unison.
This isn’t a bizarre, premeditated mass murder or some twisted sacrifice led by a student cult. These are the 20 minutes preceding an active shooter drill, the 13th one Missouri’s Lincoln County school district has staged in the past year.
All but 69 students have gone home for the day on early dismissal. These volunteer victims, mostly culled from the school’s drama class, are outfitted in fake-bloody bullet wounds, still wet and dripping down their foreheads, necks and chests. Bowen tells them what to expect: They’ll see “bad guys with AR-15s” shooting blanks during a simulated “passing period”—the moments when one class ends and the other begins. PVC pipes will be dropped on the floor to approximate IEDs. Crystal Lanham, a baby-faced freshman with long, gently-crimped brown hair, receives the dubious honor of being chosen as one of the gunmen’s hostages. She’s thrilled.
“I just really wanna get shot,” she jokes. “Is that weird?”
Yes, it is. And it isn’t healthy. It’s twisted and obsessive. I mean, 13 times in one year? The odds of your average school seeing even one on-campus homicide is one in several thousand — never mind an actual mass shooting. Yet these drills are getting more common. In one Chicago school, officials fired blanks in the hallways, apparently to “make students and teachers familiar with the sound of gunfire.” When the parent of a third-grader complained about the intensity of an unannounced shooter drill in Cahokia, Ill., last year, the principal responded: “I’d much rather your children be a little bit scared and alive.” In another unannounced drill at a special-needs school in Harlem, a panicked faculty member called police. Browse the media write-ups of these stories and you’ll see children who volunteered as “victims” posing as corpses, complete with bullet holes in their heads and shirts soaked with blood. We’ve lost our minds.
In September, the Wall Street Journal reported on a rash of lawsuits from terrified victims of mass-shooter drills across the country, not just at schools but also at businesses and nursing homes. Some were announced, others were not. The paper reported that six states require such drills. At least four of those (Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri) have lax concealed-carry laws. What happens when someone who wasn’t in on the planning decides to stop one of these fake shooters?
As University of Virginia forensic clinical psychologist Dewey Cornell explained in a guest post here earlier this year, kids are 100 times more likely to be murdered outside of school than in. In fact, the school building is just about the safest place your kid can be. Even on the vanishingly rare chance that your kid were in the same building as a school shooter, most of these incidents are over well before police arrive. So it isn’t at all clear that “drilling” this way will save lives. Subjecting kids to psychological trauma may make school officials feel superficially better about their “preparedness,” but it doesn’t make kids any safer and probably does some damage.
One of the other lonely voices of reason in this discussion is James Alan Fox, a scholar at Northeast University. Writing in USA Today, Fox stresses that although these incidents are rare (there are more than 100,000 schools in the United States), if school officials feel they must, they can prepare in ways that don’t scare kids.
Security is supposed to alleviate fear, not create it. . . . In a high-risk neighborhood, visible security can indeed be reassuring. But absent a significant threat, tight security instead projects a feeling of impending danger.
Yet, as we arrive at the second anniversary of the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., U.S. school officials are often all too quick to push such measures onto our children in terms of oversecuring schools against the threat of a shooting . . .
Understandably, parents want desperately to know that their children are protected from harm while at school. Though the figure has declined in the two years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, over a quarter of parents surveyed by Gallup in August reported being fearful for their child’s physical safety while at school.
Despite these concerns and notwithstanding the handful of school shootings, students are extremely safe. In fact, the risk of serious violence at school is significantly lower than most other times and places.
This is not to suggest that we should abandon all efforts to safeguard children while they are at school, only that security should be low-key rather than in your face. Lockdown drills and armed guards roaming the halls can traumatize youngsters. No one should sense that he’s being watched minute-by-minute. That could create a climate counterproductive to learning.
Instead, Fox suggests architectural fixes and security systems that can detect gunfire and covertly alert local authorities. But perhaps the best fix would be for the media to stop sowing panic and start providing some context when reporting on these incidents, and to start educating — not the kids, but the parents, school officials and law enforcement officials who don’t seem to understand risk assessment. We live in a historically nonviolent era. Yet we’re dressing our kids up as slaughtered corpses and recruiting pastors, parents and teachers to storm schools as pretend mass murderers. That poses a far greater threat to our kids’ collective well-being than the next Adam Lanza.