Mass killings at schools receive more media coverage than ever, but at the same time, schools are safer than they've ever been. Therefore, active shooter drills help no one and risk traumatizing children, one Princeton professor says.
In response to an NPR article on discussing the potential psychological risks of realistic active shooter drills, Princeton sociology professor Patrick Sharkey was heavily critical of exercises that claim to prepare students to respond to threats.
"Our nation has decided to carry out a policy — lockdown drills for students — that will probably not help one single student and will periodically traumatize millions of students," Sharkey wrote on Twitter. "We've done so at a time when schools are safer than they've been in decades."
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 95 percent of schools participated in some form of lockdown or active shooter drill during the 2015-16 academic year. It's possible that the number has increased since then due to a number of high-profile acts of violence in schools.
The frequency and nature of these exercises can make students feel less safe at school and feel an exaggerated likelihood that they may face a deadly threat from a mass murderer. That's not the case, however. From NPR:
Despite high-profile media coverage, school shootings with multiple victims are still rare. The overall number of students killed in shootings at schools is down from the early 1990s to about 0.15 per million in 2014-2015, according to researchers at Northeastern University. One Harvard instructor estimated the likelihood of a public school student being killed by a gun in school at about 1 in 614 million.
Recently, active shooter preparation drills have evolved into more realistic simulations, including people dressed up as active shooters firing blank rounds inside schools. Not only is this potentially triggering or traumatizing for students, some experts believe it is unnecessary.
"And the analogy that I use is we don't light a fire in the hallway to practice fire drills," Melissa Reeves, a professor at Winthrop University and former president of the National Association of School Psychologists, said. "When we're teaching stranger danger, we don't put a child on a street corner and have someone grab them and scare them. We are able to teach these things through ways where we talk them through it and then we walk them through it and they respond accordingly."