Schooled Reporting on education

The lowdown on lockdowns

Education | Examining active shooter drills a year after Parkland
by Laura Edghill
Posted 2/13/19, 05:31 pm

In the year since the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., schools across the country have revisited their active shooter protocols, trying to come up with the best way to prepare for the worst. Seventeen people were killed in the Feb. 14, 2018, rampage, the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history. Shooting suspect and former student Nikolas Cruz remains in jail awaiting trial.

In the shooting’s aftermath, educators have debated the merits of different approaches to active shooter drills, which can be extremely stressful for students, teachers, and parents. April Sullivan, the parent of an eighth grader in Henrico County, Va., received a quick “I love you, Mom” text from her daughter last May. Sullivan found out later that her daughter had been in the middle of a surprise active shooter drill that she thought was the real deal.

“To find out later she sent that text because she was in fear for her life did not sit well with me,” Sullivan said. The eastern Virginia school district changed its policy and now notifies staff, students, and parents before a drill takes place. But even with notification, the drills can be distressing.

The National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of School Resource Officers admonished schools in 2014 for their approach to active shooter simulations. The joint statement warned that drills not “conducted appropriately” could cause “physical and psychological harm to students, staff, and the overall learning environment.”

But what constitutes an appropriately conducted drill? Some schools simply talk through their protocol without physically enacting it, while some go as far to use real sounds of gunfire while students practice hiding or evacuation techniques.

And those techniques vary. For years, the ALICE (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate) protocol has been the industry standard in schools. Hospitals, businesses, and even churches follow it, too. Teachers and students receive training to hunker down in their locked classrooms, bolster doors with heavy furniture, and to communicate with outside rescuers using classroom phones or mobile devices. The ALICE Training Institute has revised the protocol in recent years, but the emphasis remains on barricading yourself and making the space as safe as possible.

But over the years, the practice of staying put and hoping for the best has come under scrutiny. The Parkland shooting forced the debate to the forefront of the national conversation on school safety. One survivor, Stoneman Douglas psychology teacher Ronit Roeven, told the Sun-Sentinel last April, “We were sitting ducks. We were vulnerable.”

A protocol called “Run, Hide, Fight” has surged in popularity since the Parkland shooting. The U.S. Department of Education recommended its use back in 2013, stating in published guidelines that “a ‘lockdown only’ response to an active shooter no longer meets government recommendations.” The protocol prioritizes evacuation over hiding and then fighting a shooter as a last resort.

“We need to be as prepared as we can,” said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, “but it doesn’t mean that we’ve got to terrify students to get them prepared.”

This year, Stoneman Douglas High School will offer counseling and support for current students on Thursday, the anniversary of the shooting, and it is encouraging them to participate in service projects like bringing a meal to the shooting’s first responders.

Associated Press/Photo by Carolyn Kaster Associated Press/Photo by Carolyn Kaster Sen. Amy Klobuchar

School choice for grownups

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., joined with Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., recently to introduce legislation that would expand education options for nontraditional students. “The American workforce is changing, and there isn’t one path to success,” Klobuchar, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, said Jan. 30.

The bipartisan Skills Investment Act of 2019 would expand the role of Coverdell Education Savings Accounts, which already allow pre-tax contributions for many educational expenses, including elementary, secondary, and college expenses. The proposed legislation would remove the existing age limit of 30 for beneficiaries and expand the range of allowable expenses to include many career and technical education services.

Job retraining has been a hot topic ever since the Great Recession forced many mid-career workers out of their jobs. Critics of the proposal say that the people who most need the help are not likely to have precious dollars squirreled away in an education savings account. But Sasse pointed out that the legislation is meant to be a start, not a comprehensive solution: “We need to rebuild our job retraining programs if we’re going to help our friends and neighbors compete in the new economy. Washington is late to this debate and the Skills Investment Act is a good place to start rethinking how we do education and job training.” —L.E.

Facebook/City Cuts Barbershop Facebook/City Cuts Barbershop Barbers and clients at City Cuts Barbershop in Kutztown, Pa.

‘Booking’ a hair appointment

A small-town Pennsylvania barbershop encourages early literacy by offering children $3 to read aloud during their haircuts. City Cuts Barbershop in Kutztown said the system not only encourages kids to read but also to break out of their shells and become comfortable with public speaking. In addition to the cold hard cash, freshly shorn customers also get to take home a book.

In the more than 2,000 comments on the Facebook post that blasted it out to the world, users posted numerous encouraging shoutouts. The barbershop also received donations of more than 75 books, as well as $2,000 through a GoFundMe campaign to help underwrite its efforts.

“We can’t thank you guys enough for the enormous amount of love that’s been given through our program,” barber Jon Escueta said. —L.E.

One more chance

The U.S. Department of Education said Wednesday it will reopen public comments on its proposed changes to Title IX sexual assault rules for one day only on Friday. Glitches plagued the online form during the original 60-day comment period, which had already been extended for two days before closing out initially on Jan. 30.

The proposed rules would require schools to follow an investigative process more akin to a court proceeding, including burden-of-proof standards, evidence sharing, and cross-examination in cases of suspected sexual assault. They also require a live hearing, one of the most contentious provisions. —L.E.

Laura Edghill

Laura is a freelance writer, church communications director, and public school board member living in Clinton Township, Mich., with her engineer husband and three sons. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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  • Laura W
    Posted: Fri, 02/15/2019 08:32 am

    I suppose it's hard to design a good drill, because you want the students to remain calm and orderly, but if they've been drilled to behave in an orderly manner, it's probably also very predictable. Any decently intelligent attacker will plan accordingly.