Are school active shooter lockdown drills missing the point?

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In this image made from a video by KWES-TV, people gather near the Alpine High School school campus after a shooting, in Alpine, Texas, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. A female student died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound Thursday after shooting and injuring another female student inside the high school in West Texas, according to the local sheriff. (KWES-TV via AP)

My 15-year-old son has been learning about the Cold War in his world history class. On back to school night, his teacher told us that in class that day the kids had heard a speaker who was a Vietnam veteran. The speaker talked about that war as well as growing up during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The students learned about the “duck and cover” drills that kids their age did in school during that time. Of course, my son wondered how that was supposed to save anyone from a nuclear bomb. Good question.

In this image made from a video by KWES-TV, people gather near the Alpine High School school campus after a shooting, in Alpine, Texas, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016. A female student died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound Thursday after shooting and injuring another female student inside the high school in West Texas, according to the local sheriff. (KWES-TV via AP)

In this image made from a video by KWES-TV, people gather near the Alpine High School school campus after a shooting, in Alpine, Texas, Thursday. (KWES-TV via AP)

Yet, the next day, when they had a lockdown drill at his school, he didn’t question it. This has become part of both of my children’s lives. In fact, the only way I knew about the drill was because the school sent out an email yesterday about an hour before the drill. The school wanted to assure us that this was a preplanned drill, schedule earlier this summer and had nothing to do with what had happened in Alpine earlier that morning. Yet, Alpine is a reminder of why they do these drills.

Yesterday, of course, was the same day that school officials were evaluating a threat at Bowie High School after students shared graffiti they found at school on social media. The graffiti written in ink on a bench read “On September 8th, I will shoot up the school.”

The threat was deemed “not viable.” Earlier this week, a student at Austin High School was arrested after making a threat to school. 

This morning when I asked my son about the lockdown drill, he just sort of shrugged and didn’t seem to know why I was even bringing it up.

According to both of my children, if an active shooter is at their school, they are supposed to turn off the lights and lock the door in their classroom. Then instead of hiding under the desk like Cold War kids did, my kids are supposed to gather with their 30 classmates in a corner of the room away from the door and window and be quiet, and hope they are not found. They tell me this same story about a teacher who saved a classroom of kids because she shoved them all in a closet. They, of course, are talking about Victoria Leigh “Vicki” Soto, who hid her students in cabinets and a closet during the Sandy Hook shooting and was killed. Her students lived. My kids are hanging onto that hope that the most important game of hide and seek in their lives will save them.

The interesting thing is that in my children’s minds, this active shooter would be a complete stranger, and definitely a man. While, that might have been true at Sandy Hook Elementary, which led to all of these drills being done, that isn’t true in most school shooting cases. And it wasn’t true in the threats made at Austin High and Bowie this week. My kids don’t think about the shooter being one of their classmates. They also don’t drill for what to do if a classmate seems to be mentally ill, seems aloof or out of it, makes a threats or statements that might be concerning.

They’ve learned a lot about protecting themselves from the stranger. They’ve also learned a lot about bullying and how to stand up to a bully, but they really haven’t learned about what to do about mental illness. Who would they talk to? My son is lucky in that his campus has a wellness counselor separate from the academic and college counselors as well as an on-site psychologist. My daughter? She has three counselors who serve 1,200 middle-schoolers with a focus on worrying about academics and class schedules.

Perhaps the drill that needs to be done is recognizing signs of mental illness and what to do about it. Perhaps that would prevent kids everywhere needing to stand in corner with their classmates and hope it’s a drill.

 


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