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School shooting drills can be more terrifying than helpful

School shooting drills can be more terrifying than helpful

Thursday, Addison High School in Lenawee County, Michigan holds an emergency preparedness drill involving “a car fire diversion that enables six individuals to launch a shooting spree”. Two victims, played by student volunteers, will be “killed” and eight wounded.

Last month, some 300 students at Cherry Valley, Arkansas’ Cross County High who participated in last month’s active shooter training drill, the type of full-scale exercise now required by law in several states. School districts across the country are responding to new state regulations, implementing mock shooting scenarios varying in scale and intensity, the more realistic drills involving simulated fatalities and victims played by student volunteers. But as some students and staff begin to report more stress than preparedness, experts worry that if not carried out with proper caution, these exercises could do more harm than good.

Since the school shooting in Newtown, school safety has become a central public concern. However, in spite of the inevitable media crush following a mass shooting, these events remain a statistically rare occurrence and school administrations and law enforcement may be going too far in a rush to protect students.

On March 18 at Cross County High, the sheriff’s department alongside police, firemen, dispatchers, paramedics, and evaluators from around the state came together to test the school and local law enforcement’s ability to handle an armed intruder. Carrying a gun filled with blanks, the shooter entered a classroom of twenty students, taking one student hostage. While he had his arm around the student and a gun to his side, police entered and took the shooter out.

In what Superintendent Carolyn Wilson described as a “totally transparent” drill, students, law enforcement, and the community were informed ahead of time of what would be taking place. What the students did not know is that the shooter would be played by someone they were very familiar with, their local pastor and school janitor.

"I felt betrayed," senior D. J. Roberts told his local news station, "I was scared because I saw him coming with the gun and I was like, 'Oh my gosh!'"

Riley Stephens, who acted as the hostage and whose mother played the second shooter describes entering the classroom of students and seeing “some more frightened than others.” “One of my teachers was very upset,” Stephens told The Daily Beast.

Cross County’s drill is certainly not the first to receive attention for the stress caused to its students. Responding to complaints from parents after an unannounced drill at a Cahokia, Illinois elementary school last month, the superintendent said, “I’d much rather your children be a little bit scared and alive, than not knowing what to do and end up being hurt."

In spite of these reports of student anxiety, state lawmakers continue to pass new regulations requiring intruder drills. Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Tennessee join Arkansas in requiring schools to stage these type of full-scale exercises, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). In addition, there are “at least 32 states that require schools to implement some type of general lockdown or general school safety drills other than fire, earthquake or tornado drills,” NCSL research analyst Lauren Heintz tells The Daily Beast.

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