Science

Texas Reform

Austin, Texas — After Britt Kelly’s son participated in a lockdown drill in his Lamar, Texas, kindergarten class two years ago, he had nightmares and wet his bed. Now at 8 o’clock he can sleep only with the lights on.

In August, the daughter of Mary Jackson, a kindergartener in Leander, asked her mother to put a “special lock” on her bedroom door to “keep the bad adults out” in the wake of a different lockdown drill.

Clay Giampaolo, a high school senior with special needs, said that after practice at his school in Plano, he goes to the special education room to “calm down.”

as a nation re-evaluation its gun lawTraining for violent bullying has become a terrifying but common reality in K-12 schools. More than 40 states require schools to prepare students to respond when a campus attack occurs. Nearly every student in the US experiences at least one or more of these Practice A year on, even though their effectiveness has been hotly debated by state legislators, school staff, safety experts, and parents.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 98% of public schools taught lockdown procedures to students before the pandemic. Their reasons are clear: According to the NCES, there were 93 school shooting casualties in the 2020-21 school year, the highest in two decades. While school shootings are rare, they have devastating consequences.

But preparing for these events can also come with a price. “The literal trauma they inflicted is horrifying,” Giampaolo said.

According to a study published in December in Nature, a journal examining social media posts, there was a 39%-42% increase in anxiety, stress and depression among K-12 students following the lockdown exercise. Practices, especially those involving simulations, have increased fear of students around the prospect of a shooting and made them feel unsafe at school. The more realistic the exercise, the more fear they provoked. According to security experts, students like Giampaolo who have special needs, and those who have experienced past trauma, are most affected.

At least one state is taking steps to balance school safety and student health. To reduce trauma for participants, new Texas rules require schools to ensure that the drills don’t simulate shootings — a change that occurred just one semester after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers. comes in. in Uvalde,

“If some children are coming off trauma or we are exacerbating existing trauma, we are not moving in the right direction,” said Nicole Golden, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, an advocacy group that supports the bill.

Texas mandates that schools complete two lockdown exercises a year. But there was confusion and widespread interpretations about how they should be governed, said state Representative Claudia Ordaz Pérez, a Democrat who sponsored the bill passed during the 2021 legislative session.

Jacqueline Schildkraut, an associate professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York, said that despite a growing body of research on how to prepare for the worst-case scenario, not all schools are following best practices and lack of reporting. There’s no way to know which ones. -Oswego, who has argued in favor of the practice.

“We have no national standards, no national guidance, and no tracking system,” Schildkraut said.

In extreme cases, schools imitate shootings, in which officers show weapons or imitate the sound of a gun, which they said is unnecessarily painful for both students and staff members. “We don’t set fires to schools to practice fire drills,” Schildkraut said.

Texas rules now more clearly differentiate between lockdown exercises, which are required, and active-threat exercises, which are voluntary and can involve the re-creating aspects of a shooting.

A drill does not involve a fake injury or the sound of a gunshot. Instead, students either talk about what to do, or practice activities Like turning off lights, closing doors, and staying calm and away from windows.

Active-hazard exercises, which are intended to train first responders, may include realistic depictions of injured students or loud noises. They give officials in different jurisdictions a chance to plan a coordinated response, said Cathy Martinez-Prather, director of the Texas School Safety Center. But schools need to carefully plan those simulations without requiring the participation of students, she said.

The new rules require schools to design drills and drills for the age and development of students, but they focus on building railings for active hazard practice. Students have not been banned from participating in the exercise, a move some gun safety and parent groups wanted. But the rules advise schools to do so at a time when students are not on campus. They also require that everyone involved is given sufficient notice prior to an exercise and that a public announcement is made immediately before, so that no participant confuses the simulation with the actual shooter.

The measure, which orders school districts to find ways to reduce potential trauma to students and staff, such as consulting with mental health professionals when planning exercises, was effective during the previous school year. But the Texas Education Agency didn’t finalize the rules until this year.

The explanations come as schools shift their focus to safety. “Especially everything that came out of Uvalde, this law is more important than ever,” Ordaz Pérez said.

The measure is a sign of incremental progress, but it is not widespread, said Blair Taylor, an attorney at Moms Demand Action in Texas, a nonprofit focused on ending gun violence. She wants the Texas legislature to do more to prevent school shootings from happening at all.

These are “Band-Aids for the bullet hole,” Taylor said. “We are not addressing the real problem of easy access to guns and a toxic gun culture.”

The Texas American Federation of Teachers is making posters to make sure teachers are aware of the new rules, so that they can file any complaints with school districts. But Texas rules do not specify punitive measures if districts fail to comply.

Doug Wozniak, the district’s director of safety and health services, said the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District has no plans to change the way it practices this year.

Once a semester, students are instructed to hide quietly in a corner while first responders walk through hallways and “lightly shake” classroom door handles, he said. The officers then shout, “Police, open up.” Students with special needs are not exempted from these lockdown exercises, he said, but officials try to check classes with those students first so that they can resume classes quickly.

After the drill, students, teachers and first responders gather in the cafeteria to argue.

But some experts say that even swinging door knobs can be imitation for many students, especially those who are younger or have experienced previous shootings.

When schools simulate any aspect of the shooting, they can potentially make students feel unsafe on the grounds of the school, said M., vice president of state policy and engagement for the Sandy Hook Promise. Aurora Vasquez said.

“Anxiety starts to sit regularly with them when they go to school,” she said.

Texas limits the number of all types of exercises that school districts must do to 16 per school year, but many argue that lockdown exercises need not be conducted as frequently.

David Schoenfeld, director of the National Center for School Distress and Bereavement at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, said, “When you start doing these exercises each month, which some school districts require, it starts to suggest that they are relatively probable.” “It’s a bad notion for kids.”

Many students say that the way Texas schools are currently practiced has a lasting impact. Jackson’s daughter is on the autism spectrum. Before August, she’d never worried about a bedroom intruder. “She’s never afraid of demons; she’s never afraid of the dark,” Jackson said. Later, that changed.

among Uvalde Shooting And the practice routine, Giampaolo said, makes him and many of his peers uncomfortable at school this year. “We really just want to go to school and not worry about getting shot,” he said.

Kelly said she understands the need for school shooter preparedness, but it has been difficult for her son.

“I don’t even know what the answer is, and I feel so powerless in this fight,” she said. “Kids are bearing the brunt of bad decisions.”


KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that conducts in-depth journalism about health issues. Along with policy analysis and polling, KHN is one of three major operational programs. kff (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is a thriving non-profit organization that provides information on health issues to the nation.

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