Editor’s Note: For more on the risks of realistic active-shooter drills, see Education Week’s March 25 article: ‘I Felt More Traumatized Than Trained': Active-Shooter Drills Take Toll on Teachers
By Madeline Will and Evie Blad
In an active-shooter training, Indiana elementary teachers were asked to kneel down and face a classroom wall before being shot, execution-style, with plastic pellets by local law enforcement.
Terrified teachers were screaming during the exercise, which left them with welts and bruises, according to the Indiana State Teachers Association, which testified about the experience to lawmakers this week. State legislators are considering a school-safety bill that, among other things, would require schools to conduct at least one active-shooter drill each school year. The bill has already passed the state House, and is now being considered by the Senate.
While union leaders support the bill, they want safeguards put in place so that teachers and students are not inadvertently harmed during active-shooter trainings.
No one in education takes these drills lightly. The risk of harming someone far outweighs whatever added realism one is trying to convey here. ISTA requests an amendment in bill so that more reasonable limits are placed on these drills.
-- Indiana State Teachers Association (@ISTAmembers) March 20, 2019
One of the teachers involved in the January incident told the Indianapolis Star that police officers said to the teachers, “This is what happens if you just cower and do nothing.” The training was voluntary, but teachers said they didn’t know they were going to be shot by an airsoft gun.
Many states have mandated active-shooter drills or increased existing requirements in response to mass school shootings last year in Parkland, Fla., and Santa Fe, Texas. The new Indiana requirement was among the governor’s post-Parkland school-safety regulations.
Active-shooter drills vary widely. Some entail school lockdowns, which can be used in a wider variety of situations. In recent years, more states and districts have pushed for drills like ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) or “run, hide, fight” drills that teach students and teachers a variety of ways to respond to an intruder. Those drills don’t always involve simulated gunfire, but they generally include instructions on climbing out of windows to escape and throwing classrooms objects, such as books, to distract intruders.
The Indiana teachers who were shot with plastic pellets were receiving ALICE training, according to the Indianapolis Star. The proposed bill does not mandate a specific type of training program.
Many school-safety consultants who work with districts pan efforts to make drills “more realistic.” Some local law enforcement have used sounds of simulated gunfire, fake blood, and weapons. In some cases, those simulations involved students.
Some safety researchers and school psychologists have said those types of drills unnecessarily traumatize children and may actually make them less safe if they act dramatically in a real crisis situation. Outspoken school-safety consultant Kenneth Trump says ALICE training is not supported by evidence and “preys on the emotions of today’s active shooter frenzy that is spreading across the nation.”
The Indiana State Teachers Association is looking for a legislator to introduce an amendment to the school-safety bill that would prohibit the “actual firing of any type of projectile toward an employee or a student,” said Keith Gambill, the vice president of the state teachers’ union.
He said the teachers in January were called four at a time to go into a small room, where they were “fired upon with a semi-automatic type of weapon that shoots soft pellets.” The teachers were each shot three to four times and were told not to tell any of their colleagues who hadn’t yet been called into the room.
While the ISTA understands the need for active-shooter trainings, Gambill said, the union wants to make sure that such an extreme situation doesn’t happen again.
“We just think that as these trainings are developed and rolled out, that we use our common sense and not do anything in which we would be firing projectiles at any student or staff members,” Gambill said.
On Twitter, many responded to the ISTA’s tweets about the active-shooter drill with shock and outrage. The teachers who were sprayed with plastic pellets could experience post-traumatic stress, people said.
All lockdown drills force teachers to envision the worst-case scenario, educators say, and these simulations can take it a step farther. Some active-shooter drills even ask teachers to review emotional video and security footage from previous school shootings. Teachers have criticized that as unnecessary. They work with students every day and they don’t need an emotional appeal to take their safety seriously, they say.
Amanda Klinger, who trains schools in safety procedures as co-founder of the Educators School Safety Network, agrees. Inconsistent and unproven methods in safety drills have not only scared teachers, they’ve also led to an increase in worker’s compensation claims for related injuries, she said.
That’s in part because many school safety grant programs focus on security hardware and equipment, rather than research-based practices to prepare school personnel for a broad range of safety concerns, she said. So cash-strapped schools work with local law enforcement to design and carry out drills, which can sometimes include “swapping war stories” and fear, Klinger said.
“If a law enforcement official comes in and says the training should be scary, people just kind of accept it,” she said. “We can provide educators with the skills and the capability that they need, and we can absolutely do it in a way that is not scary, and aggressive, and intimidating.”
Image: Helena Wolfe-Wilder, a 5th grade teacher at Forest Hills Community Learning Center, instructs her students to keep still while she secures a door. The Akron, Ohio, school recently organized a drill to prepare students and staff for how to respond to a gunman on campus. —Angelo Merendino for Education Week
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.