New Bill Provides Guidance After School ‘Active Shooter’ Drills Found to Be Traumatic for Students

Brooklynn Hillemann / Washington State Journal
Posted 3/22/22

K-12 schools have more guidance on how to conduct active-shooter lockdown drills with a new bill signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The bill prohibits schools from conducting drills involving …

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New Bill Provides Guidance After School ‘Active Shooter’ Drills Found to Be Traumatic for Students

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K-12 schools have more guidance on how to conduct active-shooter lockdown drills with a new bill signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The bill prohibits schools from conducting drills involving life-like simulations or reenactments of active shooter scenarios that are not “trauma-informed and age and developmentally appropriate.” Additionally, students, teachers and staff will be alerted before carrying out a shooting-safety lockdown drill.

Prime sponsor of the bill, Rep. Amy Walen, D-Kirkland, said the legislation is needed to protect staff and students from unintended side-effects of simulation-style drills.

“Active shooter drills are associated with increases in depression, anxiety and fears about death among children as young as five years old, to high schoolers, their parents and teachers,” she said.

In a study conducted by gun safety nonprofit Everytown Research & Policy and the Georgia Institute of Technology, over 95% of schools in the United States practice some form of an active shooter drill.

Additionally, the researchers surveyed students’ social media following the drills and found an increase in words such as “afraid,” “nervous,” and “suicidal.” The research indicated the drills increased depression in students by 39%, increased stress and anxiety by 42% and increased physiological health problems by 23% in students from 5-years-old to high school age.

“There is no empirical research supporting the benefits of school-based armed assailant drills with a sensorial experience,” said Lake Washington School District psychologist Kathryn Salveson. “Typical lockdown drills without a sensorial experience do have benefits.”

Walen said the bill was created in response to hearing from parents about how their children were consistently upset after active shooter drills.

At a House Education Committee meeting in February, Walen said her nephew described how shootings were simulated and students were instructed to build barricades during a drill at his high school.

“School shootings are rare, and we should probably not prepare our children to be anxious and afraid at schools,” she said.

Over 40 instances of a gun being brandished or fired in a school setting have been recorded in Washington state since 1990, according to data compiled by the Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s K-12 School Shooting Database research project. However, of the more than 40,000-gun deaths annually in the United States, school shootings account for less than 1%.

The bill will go into effect on June 8, 90 days after the end of the 2022 Legislative session. 

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The Washington State Journal is a non-profit news website operated by the WNPA Foundation. To learn more, go to wastatejournal.org.

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