Should school emergency drills get an overhaul?

Genesis Obando | May 12, 2021 | Education
Lawmaker says active-shooter drills can traumatize children, wants written notice and an end to fake blood, guns and more
Credit: (NJ Spotlight News)
An active-shooter drill at Robert Fulton School, North Bergen in June 2017 involved multiple law enforcement agencies.

New Jersey must redo how it conducts emergency drills in schools, says a lawmaker who has been advocating to change them for years.

Any school district planning to conduct an emergency drill, including “lockdowns,” could only do so after written notice had been provided to staff, parents and guardians of students in the district, reads a bill introduced last week by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg.

The measure (S-3726) would also require that notice include clear messaging to students and staff that the event is a drill and that no danger exists. Using fake blood, real or fake firearms, would be banned, as would simulations of gun shots. Schools would also not be allowed to require students to play victims during these simulations.

“The goal of so-called ‘active-shooter’ drills is to prepare students for possible lockdown and other preventative measures in the case of a real emergency,” said Weinberg. “However, we need to realize that sometimes the drills themselves can cause trauma, particularly to younger students.”

Can cause unnecessary stress

Social workers, educators and faculty have long discussed how to make emergency drills less traumatic for students and staff. They point to how these drills can cause unnecessary stress and fear by recreating scenarios of shootings. Critics say it is also hard to tell if these drills prepare students and staff for a real intruder because research in how effective they are is limited.

WATCH: When do active-shooter drills do more harm than good?

READ: Schools urged to include students with disabilities in emergency planning

But advocates want changes in these drills to avoid traumatic responses and fear, and to better prepare students for a real event.

“We want to empower our kids so they are able to think quickly, look around the room and make a quick assessment,” said Nancy Kislin, a social worker and therapist who has long advocated for changes in these drills.

Kislin authored a report for the New Jersey School Boards Association citing how children go to school with the constant fear of being shot to death along with participating in lockdown and active-shooter drills. After interviewing parents and students, she noted how it is clear they are anxious about school safety and how some students are worried about going to the bathroom during the day in fear of a lockdown taking place while they are there.

Kislin’s report makes similar suggestions to those in Weinberg’s legislation — like clear notice of drills and prohibiting gunshot sounds and prop firearms.

“I invite you to imagine a school principal getting on the loudspeaker and shouting, ‘Lockdown! Lockdown! Lockdown!’ How many children and staff members will experience psychological and emotional distress by hearing these words? How many times can a student be expected to endure the stress of these drills?” Kislin wrote in her report.

Weinberg’s legislation must now clear committees in the Assembly and Senate before it can be law.

WATCH: Active shooter drills urge people to be proactive in real life scenarios

READ: Does school security mean transforming facilities into fortresses?

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