There is an ongoing debate related to active shooter drills in schools. Some say the drills are a necessary preparation tool, while others say they do more harm than good.
This month, the two largest teacher’s unions announced they want education leaders to revise or eliminate active shooter drills in schools because of the potential negative impact on students’ mental health.
Psychologist at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, Dr. Michael Vitacco, says research shows the drills can cause stress and anxiety.
“It can have both narrow and broad effects,” Dr. Vitacco explains. “The narrow effects mean they might not be as comfortable in their classroom. Broadly, it can cause a whole lot of other issues at home and at school.”
Some argue active shooter drills are an effective means of preparation when done correctly.
“Doing the drills can make them more prepared if something were to happen,” Dr. Vitacco says. “The other part of it is that it can cause some anxiety, some nervousness, but there are ways to mitigate those things.”
In the report published this February, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund advised schools that do decide to use drills to also use guidelines like the following. Never simulate an actual shooting; give parents, educators and students advance notice; work with mental health officials to create age-appropriate and trauma-informed drills, and track the effects of the drills.
“School shootings, despite the fact that when they do happen, they are all over the news and all over the press, they’re still very very rare in our country,” Dr. Vitacco points out. “One of the things I would encourage parents and school administrators to do is to talk to your children about how actually safe they are in school because if you want to talk about data, research shows that a shooting happening in a school is a very rare event. You’re probably more likely to get hurt driving to school than you actually are at school.”
The report published by the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund says 0.2% of the approximately 36,000 gun deaths a year in the U.S. happen on school grounds. Dr. Vitacco says talking to kids about the rarity of school shootings can help alleviate some of the stress.