Area school officials reacted to concerns this week from national teachers unions about potential harm that active shooter drills can cause students as more districts try to prepare for crisis events.
The nation’s two largest teachers unions want schools to revise or eliminate active shooter drills, asserting that they can harm the mental health of students and that there are better ways to prepare for the possibility of a school shooting, according to an Associated Press article published Wednesday in the CourierTraveler.
“Everywhere I travel, I hear from parents and educators about active shooter drills terrifying students, leaving them unable to concentrate in the classroom and unable to sleep at night,” said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association.
Arkansas City School Superintendent Ron Ballard said that the district has conducted active shooter drills with the sound of gunfire, but those drills have not involved students and were only practiced on days when school was not in session.
“They have involved teachers and other employees,” he said.
Ballard said the district does conduct crisis drills with the students. Those drills include lockdowns and procedures to evacuate the building as quickly as possible during a non-fire emergency. He said students also receive basic instruction through a program known as ALICE, which stands for “alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.”
“We discuss with them the best steps to take in certain scenarios,” he said. “Most of this instruction and discussion is done at the start of the school year.”
Ballard said that younger children are more susceptible to fear and emotion if the drills are overly realistic. USD 470’s approach has been to talk to the students and be as realistic as possible, but not with gunfire or invasion sounds.
“Kids have an awareness of possible emergencies or danger settings, but it is not gained through practice shooter drills that involve simulated gunfire.” he said.
Ballard said the Ark City Police Department also works with the district to conduct the drills with personnel and hold discussions with the students.
Superintendent Nathan Reed said that active shooting drills are not being conducted in any of the schools in that district.
“We do intruder drills, but we don’t have active shooting replicated,” he said.
Reed said the ALICE program has become popular with many schools. He said the district has developed a hybrid program that incorporates some aspects of that program, which are being applied to all grade levels.
Superintendent Lance Rhodd said his district does not conduct active shooter drills. He said the district has been assisted by both the Ark City and Cedar Vale police departments to provide ALICE training to both staff and students. He said the training was well received.
“The presentation led to many meaningful discussions with the older students and brought an awareness to our younger population,” he said.
Rhodd said the district has also worked with local emergency personnel to conduct evacuation drills and designate safe meeting places for staff and students after exiting the building.
“We are required to do four fire drills — two tornado drills and a minimum of three crisis drills annually,” he said.
Other area districts did not reply to emailed questions by deadline Wednesday.