Schooled Reporting on education

Lockdown drills and the new school safety reality

Education | Staff members’ training and quick thinking credited with saving lives in California attack
by Leigh Jones
Posted 11/22/17, 02:42 pm

I remember my dad telling me when I was a kid about the Cold War–era safety drills he did in school. Students would hunker down under their desks, arms wrapped around their knees, until the hypothetical threat of Soviet missiles had passed.

It all seemed so preposterous to me, the idea that children could face the unimaginable horror of an air raid in the middle of Texas. Although I participated in my share of fire drills, I never feared experiencing a real blaze. Those drills seemed more perfunctory than preparatory. But today’s school safety pendulum has swung back much closer to where it was 60 years ago, when the threat seemed very real. My own daughter likely will participate in drills eerily reminiscent of those her grandfather endured: huddled under her desk in the dark, the classroom door barred.

And the threats today’s students prepare for are much more likely to become reality than the drone of a Soviet warplane overhead.

Last week, an elementary school in Rancho Tehama, Calif., became the latest site of a school shooting, but this one ended much differently than previous incidents. Law enforcement officials praised teachers and staff in the rural community for saving the children by hustling them inside when a gunman opened fire in the parking lot. The school had practiced lockdown drills for years, and that training paid off. Corning Union Elementary School District Superintendent Richard Fitzpatrick said the staff’s quick action “made all the difference between 100 kids being around today and dozens being shot or killed.”

Shooter Kevin Neal, 44, had already killed several people before he arrived at Rancho Tehama Elementary School. He went straight for a kindergarten classroom, where students and teachers cowered behind a locked door. The district maintenance director said Neal “tried and tried and tried and tried” to get in. When he couldn’t, he began firing at walls and windows. He eventually went into the cafeteria to reload and ended up fleeing in his vehicle.

One student suffered a gunshot wound and remains hospitalized, but officials believe it could have been much worse if not for the lockdown drills.

“I really, truly believe we would have had a horrific bloodbath at that school if that school hadn’t taken the action that it did,” Assistant Tehama County Sheriff Phil Johnston said.

According to a 2016 Government Accountability Office survey, almost all of the nation’s public schools participated in lockdown drills during the previous school year, but only 67 percent held active shooter drills. Several that hadn’t had a drill cited the fear such an exercise would create, especially for younger students. But since elementary schools are increasingly becoming targets, I bet the real danger eventually will outweigh the discomfort caused by having to explain such horrors to little ones.

Despite the effectiveness of the lockdown protocol in the recent California shooting, some groups say it’s not enough. Federal guidelines recommend a run, hide, fight protocol, which encourages teachers and staff to take a more active role in deflecting an attacker. One organization, the ALICE (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate) Training Institute, advises adults to throw heavy objects, like books, or band together to tackle a shooter. About one-third of schools have had ALICE training. Other schools have opted to ensure at least some staff members are armed. A few PTA groups have organized parent patrols to keep an eye on the campus while kids are in class. One Christian school in Florida helps parents order bullet-resistant panels kids can put in their backpacks.

It’s enough to make me nostalgic for the Cold War.

Associated Press/Photo by Rich Pedroncelli Associated Press/Photo by Rich Pedroncelli LGBT advocate Carolyn Laub at a California state commission meeting about textbook selection

LGBT-friendly textbooks and sports teams

Gay rights advocates celebrated two victories on opposite sides of the country last week.

In California, the State Board of Education approved 10 pro-LGBT history textbooks for use in kindergarten through eighth grade, paving the way for the books to appear in classrooms across the country. As the biggest purchaser of textbooks, California has outsized influence over the material publishers prioritize. Two books that did not include enough about the contributions of LGBT people got the ax.

In New Jersey, the State Interscholastic Athletic Association amended its policy to allow students to play on single-gender sports teams without providing any documentation that they are transgender. Schools previously asked students to provide a doctor’s note or some other form of corroborating evidence. State officials praised the transgender community’s input in the process but made no mention of feedback from parents and students who oppose the plan.

Such fluid rules are especially troubling for female athletes, some of whom will most certainly find themselves competing against boys who have a size and strength advantage. If gender-neutral sports teams become the norm, girls’ interest in athletics could wane. It’s no fun competing when the deck is stacked against you. —L.J.

iStock.com/DebraMillet iStock.com/DebraMillet Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y.

New York’s private school pain

New York’s private colleges and universities released enrollment data last week showing some “steep declines” after the state implemented its free college tuition program. The Excelsior Scholarship covers tuition at state schools, so it’s not surprising that the private institutions hardest hit have a high percentage of in-state students. At 30 of the 80 schools that participated in the survey, New Yorkers make up more than 65 percent of their student bodies. Those schools saw an overall enrollment decrease of 5 percent this year and a 7 percent decrease in first-time freshmen. But the state scholarship appears to affect transfer students most: The private institutions brought in 60 percent fewer transfers this fall. This year is the first for the Excelsior program, and private schools expect enrollment declines to continue as more students take advantage of the free tuition offer. —L.J.

More fraternities put in time-out

Ohio State University became the latest college to suspend activities of sororities and fraternities amid ongoing questions about excessive alcohol use and hazing. Eleven of the 37 Greek organizations registered with the school’s Interfraternity Council are under investigation for possible violations of the student code of conduct. —L.J.

Leigh Jones

Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is WORLD Digital’s managing editor and reports on education for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Digital.

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