The two largest teacher unions in the nation on Tuesday called for an end to unannounced active shooter drills and life-like simulations.
The American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association made the recommendation with the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, citing the traumatic effects on students.
To avoid distressing children and leading them to think their learning environment is unsafe, the groups urged schools to reconsider putting students through active shooter drills at all.
“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. “So traumatizing students as we work to keep students safe from gun violence is not the answer.”
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While they do support training for school staff, the groups recommended additional precautions for student drills, including giving parents advanced notice and tracking any traumatic symptoms afterward. In the report released Tuesday, they also called on administrators designing the programs to consider input from students, law enforcement and mental health professionals.
Lockdown drills have been around for decades, but as fear of school shootings has intensified, they have become more widespread and elaborate. According to a 2016 Government Accountability Office survey, almost all of the nation’s public schools participated in lockdown drills the previous year, and 67% held active shooter drills.
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Debate around the benefits and harms of the drills have likewise intensified, with some safety experts promoting early intervention for troubled students and gun storage education campaigns. Those plans do not pose the same anxiety-inducing risk as life-like drills, said Dr. Laurel Williams, chief of psychiatry at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.
“It’s psychologically distressing for a young child to practice active shooters coming into your area,” Williams said in a statement. “It’s not clear to them that the drill is not real. The younger the child, the less likely they are to understand that an act of violence is not occurring during a drill.”
To prevent gun violence inside and outside of schools, Congress approved $25 million in federal funding to study firearm safety in December. Experts say the funds may help researchers evaluate the effectiveness of gun policies and violence prevention efforts.
Contributing: Alia E. Dastagir and Grace Hauck, USA TODAY and The Associated Press