You Know the Drill, But Should You Do One? White Paper Highlights Active Shooter Drill Risks

Franczek P.C.
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Franczek P.C.

In Illinois, the School Safety Drill Act requires K-12 public and private educational facilities to conduct several types of safety drills, including law enforcement drills, to address potential evacuation or lock-down situations. Illinois is among the majority of states that require schools to perform law enforcement drills, commonly referred to as “active shooter drills.” However, in a recent white paper, Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund (“Everytown”), the American Federation of Teachers (“AFT”), and the National Education Association (“NEA”) discourage student involvement in active shooter drills, citing potential traumatic effects on students’ mental and physical health and well-being. How can schools balance legal requirements with recommendations like those in this recent white paper?

The white paper, released on February 11, 2020, highlights concerns from mental health professionals about the impact of active shooter drills on student mental health and academic performance, warning that such drills can frighten students rather than prepare them to respond appropriately during an actual threat. In particular, experts cautioned against unannounced drills and drills that mimic shootings, such as drills involving actors playing a shooter. The white paper also describes a troubling lack of evidence of the efficacy of drills in preventing school shootings or mitigating their damage, as well as a lack of consistency and uniformity in the structure and content of drills. Furthermore, the white paper highlights the potential negative impact school shooting drills may have on students’ sense of safety at school, with one recent study finding that student perception of safety in school decreased following participation in unscheduled, announced lockdown drills.

The white paper recommends that schools follow guidelines from the National Association of School Resource Officers and the National Association of School Psychologists for drills. That guidance recommends the following:

  1. Lockdown drills should not simulate an actual shooting incident
  2. Parents should receive notice of drills in advance
  3. Drills should be announced to students, teachers, and staff before the drills begin
  4. Drill content should be developmentally and age appropriate; school personnel, including mental health professionals, should be involved in creating drill content
  5. Drills should be combined with trauma-informed approaches to student well-being
  6. Data regarding the drills’ impact and efficacy should be tracked

How do the white paper recommendations square with Illinois legal requirements requiring law enforcement drills? Illinois requires schools to conduct a law enforcement drill that addresses an active threat or active shooter situation every year, within 90 days of the start of the school year. The School Code requires these drills to be held on days and times when students are normally at school and must involve participation from the local law enforcement agency and all school personnel and students present at the time of the drill, unless specifically exempted. However, the School Code does not mandate additional requirements regarding the format of the required law enforcement drills. Therefore, schools in Illinois have significant discretion when creating the content and format of drills addressing active shooter situations and can use the suggestions contained in the whitepaper to tailor their law enforcement drills to avoid potential negative impacts on student mental and physical health.

How do you avoid having unnecessarily damaging law enforcement drills in your school? We recommend using your threat assessment teams and procedures to increase the efficacy of all violence prevention and response efforts, including drills. Threat assessment teams, which are multidisciplinary in nature, may be a particularly useful resource for evaluating potential impacts of drills on students and for coming up with plans to safeguard student mental and physical health when creating and implementing school safety drills.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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