More than 4.1 million students in the United States endured at least one lockdown in the 2017-18 school year, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.
The Post reports that although shootings at schools remain rare, lockdown have become a regular event at U.S. schools.
The total figure of students affected by lockdowns is likely much higher because many school districts do not track them and hundreds never make the news, particularly when they happen at urban schools attended primarily by children of color.
Lockdowns save lives during real attacks, but in most cases, there is no gunman present, and lockdown procedures can inflict immense psychological damage on children who believe they are in danger.
•In New York City, rumors of a firearm on campus sparked panic at a high school, where teens desperately texted and called their parents, begging for help, telling them, “I love you.”
•In Fremont, Neb., students sobbed as they hid for nearly two hours in a girls’ locker room with the lights turned off after a teenager was spotted with a gun.
•In Pensacola, Fla., a sixth-grader messaged his grandmother, certain a shooter was in the building after social media threats triggered a lockdown.
To conduct its analysis, the newspaper reviewed 20,000 news stories and data from school districts in 31 of the country’s largest cities. The newspaper's final tally of lockdowns exceeded 6,200.
Various threats, sometimes referencing bombs, accounted for 15 percent of lockdowns, and police manhunts near campuses made up a similar share. But most—at least 61 percent—were related to firearms.
Compounding the problem for educators, is the contagious nature of threats, exacerbated by actual gun violence. Nationally, the seven days with the highest number of incidents leading to school lockdowns occurred in the two weeks after the bloodshed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Broward County, Fla., on Feb. 14.
In the month after dozens of people were slaughtered at a Las Vegas country music festival on Oct. 1, 2017, the number of lockdowns in Nevada’s Clark County School District spiked 42 percent to a total of 37, the highest count during the entire school year.
Most kids won’t suffer long-term consequences from being part of a lockdown, but experts who specialize in childhood trauma suspect that a meaningful percentage will.
“This is a clear and pressing public health issue,” says Steven Schlozman, a child psychiatrist and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.
“We have very good data that children in proximity to frightening circumstances, such as those that trigger school lockdowns, are at risk for lasting symptoms. These include everything from worsening academic and social progression to depression, anxiety, poor sleep, post-traumatic symptomatology and substance abuse. Given the potential scope of the problem, we are in dire need of more information. How do we protect children from these issues?”