April 9, 2018

The dangers of school anti-shooter exercises

Devon MagliozziThe Conversation  -Increasingly, schools are turning to active shooter drills and videos to prepare students and staff to face a gunman. As a sociologist who studies the social impacts of security strategies, I am concerned about the unintended ethical and political consequences of these exercises.

All students deserve safe learning environments. Yet training kids to take responsibility for their own survival while treating gun violence as inevitable may make schools — even those that are never the site of a shooting — feel unsafe. Effects like this need to be weighed against the potential benefits of active shooter training to ensure that measures to protect students do not cause unintended harm.

By 2013, over two-thirds of public schools in the U.S. used lockdown drills to prepare for an active shooter. In these exercises, students huddle in classrooms to practice waiting for help from police and SWAT teams.

School shootings continued unabated, however, so the Department of Education began to encourage students and teachers to plan a more active response. Rather than huddle and wait, students and teachers are now told to “run, hide, fight.”  

....By having students practice responding to a pretend emergency, school administrators hope they will respond the same way to a real one. However, training exercises that instill fear may have negative effects on students. Research shows that exposure to neighborhood violence alters kids’ cognitive performance, affecting how quickly and accurately they respond to cues on a computer screen. If simulated or anticipated violence has similar impacts on kids’ cognition, it could impact their classroom performance.

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