Bringing better mental health to school lockdown drills

About 96 percent of U.S. Schools require some sort of lockdown drill, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Texas School Shooting
Posted at 7:45 PM, May 30, 2022

In the wake of the Uvalde school shooting in Texas, experts suggest more changes to school lockdown drills. 

The main message: Make sure drills are trauma-informed. 

The National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of School Resource Officers have guidance for trauma-informed shooter drills to balance safety and the mental well-being of students, staff, and teachers. 

And about 96 percent of U.S. Schools require some sort of lockdown drill, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. 

Lockdown is an umbrella term for a drill preparing for a threat in or near the school. But there’s no set standard. 

State to state, school district to school district, drills can be very different. 

Jaclyn Schildkraut, a criminal justice professor at State University of New York at Oswego, studies school lockdown drills.

She says drills should form muscle memory and empower confidence.  

Research shows if a student has an anxiety or trauma response, their ability to focus and remember could suffer.  

What does a trauma-informed drill look like?  

"There is no need to have a live simulation," says Dr. Robin Gurwitch, a clinical psychologist at the Center for Child and Family Health. "We don't set fires or put smoke bombs out to practice fire drills."

"We didn't just stick kids in a room and expect them to perform," Schildkraut says. "We talked to them about why they were doing what they were doing, what they needed to do."

The content of debriefs before and after a drill are crucial too. 

"How are you going to make sure that students that may have experienced recent traumas understand the drills?" Gurwitch asks. "Do parents know that there's a drill coming?"

Experts think it will be a long time before we could see a universal drill protocol, like what exists now for a fire or tornado drill.  

They also add that while it's incredibly horrible, a mass school shooting in the context of school-based crime is still a statistically rare event — meaning protecting mental health while preparing for the worst is just as important.


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