Texas overhauls ‘active shooter’ drills to minimize trauma – San Antonio Express-News | Wonder Mind Kids

AUSTIN — After participating in a lockdown exercise in his Lamar Kindergarten class two years ago, Britt Kelly’s son began having nightmares and wet his bed. Now 8, he can only sleep with lights on.

In August, after a separate lockdown exercise, Mary Jackson’s daughter, a kindergarten teacher at Leander, asked her mother to put a “special lock” on her bedroom door to “keep out bad adults”.

Clay Giampaolo, a special needs senior, said that after exercises at his school in Plano, he goes to the special education room to “calm down.”

CONTINUE READING: Boerne ISD pays attention to school safety, mental health according to Uvalde

As the nation reevaluates its gun laws, training in violent threats has become a grisly but commonplace reality in K-12 schools. More than 40 states require schools to prepare their students to respond if a campus is attacked. Almost every student in America experiences at least one or more of these exercises each year, although their effectiveness has been hotly debated by state legislators, school staff, safety professionals, and parents.

About 98 percent of public schools taught students lockdown procedures before the pandemic, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The reasons are obvious: In the 2020-21 school year, there were 93 school shootings with victims, according to NCES, the highest number in two decades. School shootings, while rare, have devastating consequences.

But preparing for these events can come at a cost. “The literal trauma that just they caused is appalling,” Giampaolo said.

Anxiety, stress and depression increased by 39-42 percent in K-12 students after lockdown exercises, according to a study published in December in the journal Nature examining social media posts.

The exercises, particularly those involving simulations, increased students’ fears of a possible shooting and made them feel unsafe at school. The more realistic the exercise, the more fear they provoked. According to safety experts, students like Giampaolo who have special needs and those who have experienced previous trauma are among those hardest hit.

At least one state is taking a step to balance school safety and student health.

To minimize participant trauma, new Texas regulations require schools to ensure drills don’t simulate shootings — a change that comes just a semester after the deaths of 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde by a gunman.

“If some kids come away traumatized or we add to an existing trauma, we’re not moving in the right direction,” said Nicole Golden, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, an advocacy group that supported the law.

Texas requires schools to complete two lockdown drills a year. But there has been confusion and wide-ranging interpretations about how they should be carried out, said Rep. Claudia Ordaz Perez, a Democrat who sponsored the law, which passed during the 2021 legislative session.

Despite a growing body of research preparing for worst-case scenarios, not all schools follow best practices, and there’s no way to tell which ones, said Jaclyn Schildkraut, associate professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York-Oswego , who spoke out in favor of drills.

“We have no national standard, no national guidance and no traceability system,” said Schildkraut.

In extreme cases, schools simulate gunfights, with officers brandishing guns or making the sound of gunshots, which they say is unnecessarily traumatizing for both students and staff. “We don’t set fire to schools to practice a firefighting exercise,” said Schildkraut.

Texas rules now make a clearer distinction between lockdown drills, which are required, and active threat drills, which are optional and may involve recreating aspects of a gunfight.

A drill does not involve feigning injuries or the sound of gunshots. Instead, students either discuss what needs to be done or practice activities such as turning off lights, locking doors, and remaining silent and away from windows.

Active threat drills designed to train first responders may include realistic depictions of injured students or loud noises. They give officers in different jurisdictions the ability to plan a coordinated response, said Kathy Martinez-Prather, director of the Texas School Safety Center. But schools must carefully plan these simulations without requiring student participation, she said.

The new regulations require schools to adapt drills and drills based on student age and development, but they focus on creating guard rails for active threat drills. Students are not prohibited from participating in drills, and some gun safety and parent groups are encouraged to relocate. However, the rules advise schools to conduct them at a time when students are not on campus. They also require that all parties involved be informed well in advance of a drill and a public announcement made immediately beforehand so that participants do not confuse a simulation with an actual shooter.

The measure, which also directs school districts to find ways to minimize potential trauma to students and staff, such as B. the consultation of mental health professionals in the planning of the exercises, was in force in the previous school year. But the Texas Education Agency only finalized the rules this year.

The clarifications come as schools renew their focus on safety. “Especially everything that has come out of Uvalde, this legislation is more important than ever,” said Ordaz Perez.

The measure is a sign of incremental progress, but it’s not comprehensive, said Blair Taylor, an attorney with Texas-based Moms Demand Action, a nonprofit focused on ending gun violence. She wants the Texas legislature to do more to prevent school shootings from even happening.

These are “band-aids for bullet holes,” Taylor said. “We’re not addressing the real issue of easy access to guns and the toxic gun culture.”

The Texas American Federation of Teachers is creating posters to ensure teachers are aware of the new rules so they can file grievances with school districts. But Texas regulations provide no penalties for districts not complying.

The San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District has no plans to change the way it conducts the exercises this year, said Doug Wozniak, the district’s director of safety and health services.

Once a semester, students are instructed to silently hide in a corner while first responders walk down the hallways and “shake the classroom doorknobs slightly,” he said. Officers then yell, “Police, open up.” Students with special needs are not exempt from these lockdown drills, he said, but officers are attempting to check classrooms containing those students first so they can quickly resume classes.

After the exercise, students, teachers, and first responders gather in the cafeteria for a debrief.

But even wobbling doorknobs could seem too much of a simulation for many students, especially those who are younger or have experienced a previous shooting, some experts say.

When schools simulate any aspect of a shooting, they can potentially make students feel unsafe on campus, said M. Aurora Vasquez, vice president of state policy and engagement at Sandy Hook Promise.

“Fear regularly starts sitting with them when they go to school,” she said.

Texas limits the number of all types of drills school districts should conduct to 16 per academic year, but many argue lockdown drills need not be conducted frequently.

“When you start doing these exercises every month that some school districts require, that suggests they’re relatively likely,” said David Schonfeld, director of the National Center for School Crisis and Grief at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. “That’s a bad perception for kids.”

Many students say the way Texas schools are currently conducting exercises is having a lasting impact.

Jackson’s daughter is on the autism spectrum. Before August, she never worried about an intruder in the bedroom. “She was never afraid of monsters; She was never afraid of the dark,” Jackson said. After that that changed.

Between the Uvalde shooting and the regularity of the drills, Giampaolo said he and many of his classmates are feeling uncomfortable at school this year. “We literally just want to go to school and not worry about getting shot,” he said.

Kelly said she understands the need to prepare for school shooting, but it has been difficult for her son.

“I don’t even know what the answer is and I think that’s why I feel so powerless in this fight,” she said. “The children bear the brunt of the bad decisions.”

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom producing in-depth journalism on health issues. Along with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operational programs of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is a donated non-profit organization that provides information to the nation on health issues.

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