Childhood trauma and adversity are costing taxpayers big money in our local school budgets.

Sadly, some of our very own school security policies and procedures contribute to student trauma (“Teachers unions: Revise or get rid of active shooter drills in schools,” Feb. 12, Page A2).

While Maine school safety drills don’t include “shooting teachers with rubber pellets so they (would) feel the adrenaline of what a school shooting would feel like,” as the Associated Press’ Pat Eaton-Robb recently reported, many of our districts have outdated, heavy-handed drill protocols that use students and staff as guinea pigs to test “response readiness.”

It’s hard to believe, given what we now know and understand about childhood trauma (just read the 2005 adverse childhood experiences study of 17,000 participants, known as the ACEs Study), that lockdown practice drills in many of our schools are designed to be “as real as possible,” so that administrators, school safety committees and participating local police can gauge the effectiveness of responses and see “where the holes are,” as one administrator told me when I wanted to learn more about the security procedures in my child’s school.

Lockdown practice drills should foster familiarity, confidence, and a sense of empowerment in everyone who learns or works in a school building. Drills should never be a potential direct trigger for anxiety, especially with children. Students should never have to think or feel that an active shooter or imminent threat is occurring when in reality a standard practice drill has been scheduled.

All stakeholders – students and teachers, support staff, school nurses, parents, visitors, all administrators – should understand at once based on intercom directions whether a drill is a real emergency or a practice. To conflate the two exposes a serious educational and psychological disconnect, an approach that is not student-centered or trauma informed.

As a classroom teacher myself, I have seen the positive reaction from the students in my school when we complete an identified practice lockdown. They respond with earnestness and full attention – and, yes, some with mild anxiety. Anyone who questions whether kids will take an announced practice drill seriously hasn’t been in a school lately.

In my school we work in full partnership with our local police department and our on-site school resource officer as we routinely practice and annually review our security responses. The police support our chosen approach of openly identifying drills as “practice,” with no ambiguity. Our crisis response team updates procedures throughout the school year and communicates almost weekly with teaching staff on protocols and any needed adjustments.

It’s a huge responsibility for my administrators, but the time they devote to this issue speaks to their commitment to school safety and security.

Alerting parents before and after practice drills via School Messenger (or similar system) should be common practice for districts. One reason is so that parents can speak to their children about the drill later that evening for a simple debrief or supportive conversation. This helps lessen anxiety or any deeper adverse feelings that are set-off by the emergency drills.

More parents and taxpayers should inquire about their local schools’ emergency response protocols to see if antiquated “as real as possible” drills are still being employed and promoted by districts.

Ill-conceived security drills exact a financial and human cost.

Recently, the special education director in my town reported to the school board that new IEP student referrals through January 2020 already surpass the total number of referrals from last year.

When concerned board members inquired about the cause of the steep increase with its accompanying higher costs, the director identified “childhood trauma” as one of the potential causes. Many students, she added, also have trauma that is undiagnosed or unidentified. They suffer in silence and often perform poorly in school.

While our communities cannot wipe away the tragic effects of broken families, opioid addiction and poverty, we do have the power and responsibility to enact school security policies that help keep our kids feeling physically safe, but also respected, included, and cared for.

If we do that, we’ll keep trauma within our sights as we work together to protect school children to the best of our human abilities.


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