School, Interrupted Part 1: Duck and Cover
A gun was fired over a hundred times in or near a K-12 school last year. That’s according to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School. To measure this, the center takes into consideration “each and every instance a gun is brandished, fired, or a bullet hits school property for any reason, regardless of the number of victims, time of day, or day of the week.”
However, according to Dr. Christina Conolly from the School Safety Crisis Response committee at the National Association of School Psychologists, schools at large remain a safe space.
“Even though we've been hearing a lot of news about the activist assailant, you still have a greater chance of being bitten by a shark than being involved in active assailant situations.”
As a fact-checking exercise, let’s look at the data: the FBI estimates that in 2018 there have been 5 active shooter incidents at an educational environment in the U.S. This would confirm what Dr. Conolly said. Active shooter incidents at schools are rare occurrences. However, when we drill further down, the number of people injured or killed during those incidents rises up to 81, of which 71 were students. The number of people attacked by a shark in the same period in the U.S. is 32.
During the past decade, the number of gun-related incidents at school has been steadily increasing. Moreover, according to Wake Forest University Professor of Psychology, Dr. Deborah Best, an increase in media coverage has led to increased anxiety levels.
“Whether you're there or not, seeing these things starts to challenge your sense of a just world. These are often seen as innocent victims, especially when you're looking at some of these younger students that have been killed. So, that means that we all feel like the world is supposed to be just, and good people get good things and bad things happen to bad people. But bad things should not happen to good people. So when a child or young adult sees these things, they start challenging that thought. ‘Well, maybe something bad is going to happen to me, even though I'm not a bad person.’ So that's the setup that then leads to anxiety, depression, things of that sort.”
Which brings us to lockdown drills. While the research on emergency preparedness is limited in scope, schools across the country have been conducting emergency drills for generations.
“You have to think back to the late 1950s, early 60s, I believe it was 1961 when the fallout shelter program began in the US and many schools had fallout shelters, many people had personal fallout shelters in their basement or in their backyards.”
While fire and tornado drills, and at some point in our history, nuclear attack drills, have been pretty common occurrences in our schools, it was after Columbine that active assailant drills were introduced, and according to Dr. Best, there’s a huge difference with this type of drills:
“Those threats were coming from outside our normal environment. They were coming from Russia or somewhere that was far away. The problem we see today is that this violence is happening with the kids we are going to school with or someone down the street. You don't know whether it's the kid who sat next to you in English class yesterday, who's going to come to class today with a gun.”
In the past decade, the number of schools that have lockdown and active assailant drills has increased each year. By 2015-16, about 95% of schools had drilled students on a lockdown procedure and while some experts argue that these drills might have a detrimental effect on students’ feelings of safety at school, there’s no evidence to support the effectiveness of these drills to prevent school violence.
If you have been in a lockdown situation and would like to share your experience, let us know. We want to hear from you! You can leave us a voice message here. We’ll feature some of your stories on our website.
Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify the number of active shooter incidents and people injured in them per year.