Enrichment Education

Two prominent teachers unions warn against active shooter drills

an empty school hallway showing an exit sign

Story at a glance

  • In a new report, the American Federation of Teachers and National Educators Association, along with the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, recommend against active shooter drills for students.
  • The report points to concerns about the effects of lockdown drills on the mental health of students as well as limited evidence of their effectiveness.
  • Instead, the organizations encourage comprehensive school safety plans to preempt gun violence.

Two national teachers unions are sounding the alarm on the negative effects of active shooter drills on students as more public schools engage in lockdown drills.

In a joint report with the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Educators Association (NEA) recommend against active shooter drills for students. 

“Given growing concern among parents, students, educators and medical professionals about the impact that active shooter drills can have on student development, Everytown, AFT, and NEA do not recommend these drills for students and believe schools should carefully consider these impacts before conducting live drills that involve students and educators,” the report says. 

While active shooter drills were first introduced nationally after the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, they’ve become more common in recent years. According to the report, 95 percent of American public schools drill students on lockdown procedures in the event of a shooting as of the 2015-16 school year, compared to 40 percent in the 2005-06 year. 

But while there is limited evidence that these drills are effective at preventing deaths, the wider school security industry is reportedly worth about $2.7 billion. School-based lock down drills are required in at least 40 states, according to a survey by Everytown, but are not universally regulated. While some schools notify parents in advance of trauma-sensitive developmentally appropriate exercises, others employ actors as “masked gunmen” without informing children that they are in a drill until it is over. 

“What these drills can really do is potentially trigger either past trauma or trigger such a significant physiological reaction that it actually ends up scaring the individuals instead of better preparing them to respond in these kinds of situations,” said Melissa Reeves, former president of the National Association of School Psychologists, in the report. 

The report suggests six guidelines for schools that do conduct active shooter drills:

“1. Drills should not include simulations that mimic an actual incident;
2. Parents should have advance notice of drills;
3. Drills should be announced to students and educators prior to the start;
4. Schools should create age and developmentally appropriate drill content with the involvement of school personnel, including school-based mental health professionals;
5. Schools should couple drills with trauma-informed approaches to address students’ well-being; and
6. Track data about the efficacy and effects of drills.”

Drills which prepare students for an “intruder” and teach best practices to minimize fear can help students respond to a threat without becoming anxious, according to the study. But the AFT and NEA still do not recommend drills, suggesting schools focus instead on school safety plans and early intervention to preempt violent behaviors.

“School climate encompasses the relationships, values, and structures that enable students to learn in a safe, respectful and nurturing environment. Investing in increased social support and mental health services can assist students, especially those experiencing emotional or social difficulties, in receiving the help they may need,” the study says. 

The organizations also stated their support of gun violence prevention policies such as the implementation of background checks, Extreme Risk laws, secure gun storage laws and awareness campaigns.

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