A new report said schools were emotionally scarring students by conducting unannounced active shooter drills.
In the 2015-2016 school year, 95 percent of schools conducted active threat training, according to the U.S. Department of Education data.
The National Education Association, International Federation of Teachers and Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund jointly released a report Tuesday that criticized the practice of simulated school shooting drills conducted without first notifying teachers and students.
“Though there is scant evidence that they are effective at preventing deaths in school shooting situations, school-based drills are required in at least 40 states,” the report found.
While there are laws requiring such drills, the report found the laws were vague, which means “students and educators are required to participate in drills that vary dramatically across America’s schools, from some that involve advanced parental notification of trauma-sensitive developmentally appropriate exercises to others that deploy ‘masked gunmen’ actors, require students as young as 3 and 4 years old to be confined within a space for extended periods, and fail to inform children that they are in a drill until it is over.”
Legislation signed into law in 2018 requires all schools in Illinois to conduct at least one active shooter drill annually with students present. The Illinois law, like laws in other states, doesn’t get into the specifics.
The coalition supports a prohibition on drills that simulate gun violence, such as ALICE drills, named after the acronym standing for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. The report specifically called out training with simulated gun violence used by organizations like the ALICE Training Institute.
In a written response, Jean Paul Guilbault of ALICE said the drills were important because when faced with an active shooter situation, every second counts.
“ALICE Training Institute strongly agrees with five of the six recommendations outlined in the recently published report from Everytown for Gun Safety,” he said. “ALICE is extremely supportive of giving parents and students advance notice, tracking with data, considering the holistic person, and ensuring every drill is catered to the individuals' age and ability. However, we believe that, when done appropriately, drills that simulate an event and allow students to practice their options, whether that be lockdown or evacuation, are the most effective to keep children safe.”
Normal West High School Principal Dave Johnson said his school communicates before all active shooter drills. He said prior notice of a drill can often cause staff to over-prepare “however, I think the disruption that an unannounced drill does can cause such miscommunication to students and parents that I don’t think it’s worth that.”
Steve Smith, president of the Florida-based Guardian Defense, said Wednesday that his company never simulates gun violence for fear of scarring teachers or students, doing little to better prepare them for a real threat.
“In the very beginning, we lay everything out and tell them there are no surprises,” he said. “We’re not going to come in and shoot them with airsoft pellets.”
He’s referencing an Indiana school who, during a shooter drill, mocked executing teachers with airsoft guns.
Smith, who was soon heading to a training session at a school in Bethalto, Illinois, said an unannounced drill should only be conducted after a series of other steps were taken to ensure teachers and students were prepared.