In this Friday June 9, 2017, file photo, students are led out of school as members of the Fountain Police Department take part in an Active Shooter Response Training exercise at Fountain Middle School in Fountain, Colo. The nation’s two largest teachers unions want schools to revise or eliminate active shooter drills, asserting Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, that they can harm students’ mental health and that there are better ways to prepare for the possibility of a school shooting. Dougal Brownlie/The Gazette via AP, File

Locals schools may be rethinking how they approach active-shooter drills in response to a report that calls them ineffective and sometimes traumatizing.

The report, released by The Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, recommends an end to active-shooter drills that are unannounced or that simulate gun violence.

“Students, teachers, and staff have experienced distress and sometimes lasting trauma as a result of active-shooter drills,” according to the report.

School safety has become a $2.7 billion industry that “has grown up around the anguish of parents and school staff and the desperate feeling that we must ‘do something,'” but there is extremely limited research available on drills’ effectiveness, according to the report.

Under a law that went into effect in March 2015, all Maine schools must conduct 10 drills, including fire and lockdown, per school year. Lewiston holds two lockdown and eight fire drills.

Superintendent Todd Finn, who took over Lewiston public schools in July 2019, said he understands the need for crisis training, but he agrees with the report that simulations may be harmful and ineffective.

Lewiston School Superintendent Todd Finn Karen Kreworuka/Sun Journal

Simulations “signal the worst possible day you could ever have,” he said. “I don’t want to traumatize kids any more than they already are.”

Lewiston schools are “shifting to a new way of thinking” about how to handle crises. That involves developing crisis response teams at each school. They would be in place beginning next year.

A team would respond to any incident that disrupts the school day, even something as simple as a fight in a hallway, he said.

Crisis responders will be trained this spring by the ALICE Training Institute. The acronym stands for “alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate.”

The institute is a private, for-profit company that offers a shooter training and preparedness education program, according to its website.

The company has trained more than 18 million people across all 50 states, but the NEA/AFT report warns against its potentially traumatizing methods, which can include simulations involving students.

Local school officials say they do not involve students in simulations.

In Auburn, police have conducted such drills with staff, Superintendent Katy Grondin said Thursday. Only students who volunteered to participate were in the building.

Grondin said lockdown drills were held in Auburn schools before the Maine Legislature passed the bill mandating them.

She declined to say exactly what happens during a lockdown.

Auburn School Superintendent Katy Grondin Lauren Schneiderman/Sun Journal

“We don’t post what happens because that’s part of our emergency operations plan,” she said. Generally, it’s “out of sight, lights out, being quiet,” she said. “When it’s a drill, it’s announced as a drill.”

Auburn schools hold two lockdown drills per year, Grondin said. Sometimes they’re accidental, and that counts, too. Sometimes a panic button gets pushed by accident.

An immediate alarm goes to local police, rescuers and administrators, followed up by robocalls to parents, whether it’s a planned lockdown or a mishap

She said school officials will go over the active-shooter report with a security expert who keeps them up to date on what works best and lessons learned from shootings around the country.

That might lead to changes in how they handle drills, she said.

She said Auburn schools have not worked with the ALICE program, “but that doesn’t mean we won’t in the future.”

Finn and Grondin both stressed that communication is key to keeping people safe and easing the fears of parents and children.

Auburn officials “do a lot of debriefing” with students after a drill, Grondin said. She said she has not heard complaints from parents because they are kept in the loop on a regular basis.

Finn said greater awareness and communication among staff, students and parents will be part of the new focus on crisis response.

“We need to be sure we are the best we can be, explain what we are doing and why, and get the best data possible,” he said. “It’s important for people to know that this is what we do.”

Tina Meserve, superintendent of the Mount Blue Regional School District based in Farmington, said she agreed “in general” with the report.

“We want to be prepared and we should have drills to prepare kids, but we don’t want active-shooter simulation, someone bursting through the door,” she said.

She said the district has held training for staff with local police, but it wasn’t mandatory. Not everyone wanted to participate.

Lockdowns in her district involve students “sitting quietly in a corner of a room,” Meserve said. The buildings are not evacuated.

She said she received complaints from parents who “felt their kids were scared before or after” a drill when she was superintendent of RSU 16, which covers Mechanic Falls, Minot and Poland. She left that job in 2018. She has received no complaints from parents in the Mount Blue district, she said.

The NEA/AFT report includes an analysis of the research available on active-shooter drills and recommends six stipulations for schools that conduct drills:

  • • Drills should not include simulations that mimic an actual incident;
  • • Parents should have advance notice of drills;
  • • Drills should be announced to students and educators prior to the start;
  • • Schools should create age and developmentally appropriate drill content with the involvement of school personnel, including school-based mental health professionals;
  • • Schools should couple drills with trauma-informed approaches to address students’ and educators’ well-being; and
  • • Schools should track information about the efficacy and effects of drills.

The three groups released the report in conjunction with an updated version of Keeping Our Schools Safe: A Plan to Stop Mass Shootings and End All Gun Violence in American Schools, a report that provides facts about gun violence in schools and recommends clear guidance for schools and lawmakers to intervene before gun violence in schools occurs.

Recommendations include passing gun safety laws at the state level, public awareness campaigns about secure gun storage and expanding access to mental health services in schools.


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