academy of pediatrics

Pediatrics group recommends that schools stop active shooter drills

Aug. 27, 2020
The American Academy of Pediatrics says active shooter drills at schools can unnecessarily traumatize students.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, warning that realistic active shooter drills can unnecessarily traumatize children, says schools should stop running them.

CNN reports that the academy has issued a policy statement outlining the risks of active shooter drills that simulate an attack or drills that students believe are real.

Both types of drills can cause psychological harm to students and may even hinder the decisions that school faculty have to make in real crises, the pediatricians say.

Children and teens should be involved in some drills that prepare them for crises, the association says, but not when participating in those drills could do more harm than good.

Typical active shooter drills might have students hide in a part of their classroom and keep quiet. More intense variations may stage a shooting, and some may even be conducted without prior warning to students and parents.

In its policy statement, the association advised against "high-intensity" active shooter drills, which may use real weapons, gunfire and makeup made to look like gunshot wounds or blood.

Active shooter drills are often planned without the input of experts who can address the needs of young children, children who've experienced trauma and disabled children.

There's evidence, too, that intense drills could hinder decision making by adult staff: The pediatricians cited a study that found that school staff who completed active shooter training designed to help them make decisions in the moment were nearly twice as likely to make the wrong decisions in a crisis compared with untrained staff who relied on common sense.

Active shooter drills have become an increasingly normal occurrence in U.S. schools. During 2015-16, about 95% of schools drilled students on lockdown procedures, according  to the U.S. Department of Education. 

The pediatricians' policy statement also described an experience at a high school that "deceived" its students into believing they were in an active shooting. Students vomited, fainted and even wrote "farewell notes" to their parents when they believed they were being attacked. Children escaped by jumping over fences and stampeded in hallways.

Such high-intensity crises may cause students to view adults and peers as "potential killers" and could heighten their anxiety.

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