One of the issues that led me to run for the Board of Education was student safety, particularly the way that our children were subjected to traumatic lockdown drills and the complete lack of transparency around them for parents.
Last year, as first-time South Orange-Maplewood School District parents, our kindergartener came home one day with a vague description of having experienced what sounded like an active-shooter lockdown drill.
“There was a wild animal in the school,” she told us, explaining that her classmates were all herded into another room and told to be quiet until they were given the all-clear. Naturally, we had about a dozen more questions.
Of course, I was shocked at the complete lack of transparency within SOMSD.
Parents were offered no information — nothing — about the frequency, the intensity, or the psychological effect of the drills — not beforehand, nor after the fact.
The more I spoke to fellow parents, the more stories I heard about how students were being terrorized or traumatized.
After a subsequent such “code red” exercise, our daughter broke down in tears at the dinner table — days after the fact — when we were talking about our week. One parent told me about a child who had been in the restroom at school when one of these drills took place, and now the student doesn’t use the restroom at school, instead waiting to get home to relieve themselves.
The mere existence of such drills are traumatizing, and — although required by law — there’s no need for them to be as intense as they have been in our district.
A story in The Atlantic explains that while active-shooter drills came into existence after the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, effects of their long-term psychological effects are only now starting to be understood. Unsurprisingly, it’s not good.
“It’s good to do emergency drills, but active shooters are not a drill anyone should have to do,” said Meredith Corley, who taught math in Colorado in the aftermath of Columbine, as quoted in The Atlantic. “It re-traumatizes kids who have experienced violence. Getting the kids settled back into the work of learning after lockdown drills is a nightmare. That mind-set has no place in a learning environment.”
At the very minimum, I would like to see SOMSD put policies in place that would: 1) inform incoming parents new to the district; 2) consider the psychological effects to our children, many of whom don’t even understand what a gun is (purposely so, in our home); and 3) provide parents and students the support services they need to have a fully informed dialogue about what happened, or even any indication that parents should know that their children were just traumatized: Give parents the tools they need to be good parents.
At the Community Coalition on Race BOE candidates forum last week, someone asked about whether we support armed security guards in schools or training programs such as ALICE (which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate).
As a candidate for one of three seats on the Board of Education, I am firmly opposed to the presence of armed guards in schools. Statistics show a correlation between the presence of firearms and a higher incidence of death and injury. Accidents happen, and we have to ensure that accidents of this type never occur in an educational setting.
Also, there is no evidence that ALICE is effective, and it may actually increase the risk of harm to students. One Florida teacher, as reported in The Trace, explained what the Counter, or fight back, directive means in practice: “’Remember,’ I tell the children, looking them in the eyes in the darkened classroom. ‘Remember to keep the scissors open. They’ll stab better that way.’”
It wrongly emphasizes escalation when we should be looking to increase the use of de-escalation techniques and integrating conflict resolution throughout our district, from cafeteria workers to custodians, from high school security guards to educators.
Let’s have greater Transparency, Accountability and Dignity throughout every facet of our school district. We deserve that much as parents, and more importantly it’s what our children deserve.
What Are Active-Shooter Drills Doing to Kids? The Atlantic
In Era of School Shootings, the Most Vulnerable Students Must Prep for the Worst, The Wall Street Journal