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School Safety: Are Our Kids As Prepared As Possible?

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One of the several questions that keeps nagging many parents in the days following the unthinkable Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting concerns preparedness.

Were the teachers as prepared as they could have been? Were the kids prepared? Most pressing of all: Should we be teaching our kids what to do if someone enters their school with a gun?

One reader posted to Parenting's Facebook wall: "As a parent I'm terrified and confused. Should I teach my kids to point out as soon as they seen a gun? Should I teach my kids to stay quiet?"

The fact is that many schools implemented lockdown drills – in addition to fire and other emergency evacuation drills – in 1999, after the Columbine massacre. 

At Sandy Hook, teachers and staff had indeed drilled for an extreme emergency, never knowing how horribly useful the training would become.

The actions of first grade teacher Kaitlin Roig have become widely known and celebrated. She locked her classroom door and barricaded herself and her 14 students in a locked bathroom.

Library clerk Mary Ann Jacob sent the kids in the library to a back closet between book shelves, a plan developed in advance.

The principal lost her life attempting to stop the gunman. First grade teacher Victoria Soto is being hailed a hero for hiding her students from the gunman. She died protecting them.

Plus: Planning for the Worst-Case Scenarios Help Us Feel Safe

“They did everything they could do,” Bill Bond of the National Association of Secondary School Principals told Parenting.com. “Shooters react to noise. The teachers got their kids quiet; they got them down. They got some of them in the closet. When you do all of that for your kids, and you die, you’ve given everything you can.”

Before coming to the NASSP, Bond was the principal at Heath High School in Paducah, KY, where on December 1, 1997, a freshman student shot eight fellow students at Heath High School. Three girls died and two others suffered paralyzing injuries. He has since devoted his career to school safety.

But are we supposed to drill our kids as if they were Marines? When asked if we should be drilling our first graders on what to do in the event of a shooting, beyond following teacher orders, Bond emphatically said no.  

“This is definitely not training for young kids,” he said. “It is something that teachers, administrators, need to be trained in. The kids are going to take their cue from what their teacher asks them to do.”

Bond does speak frequently talk to high school kids, who he tells to speak up if they see or hear about a gun. The shooting at his school, he said, could have been prevented because eight students had seen the gun prior to its being fired. He does not deliver this message to children younger than seventh grade, however.

"Little kids would naturally tell," he said. "In high school they would naturally not tell. In high school they'd worry about snitching."

Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, echoed Bond’s praise for Sandy Hook’s preparedness. "It does sound as though the teachers did everything humanly possible, down to risking their lives, to protect the children in this Connecticut school," Trump told ABCNews

That we live in a world where children must practice lockdown procedures along with fire drills has become a sad sign of the times. 

“A lot of states have lockdown drills and security measures in place. It’s not unusual at all,” said Kathy Christie, a researcher at the Education Commission of the States, which advises governors and state legislators, described the requirements that some states have developed about drills.

“You have tornado drills, you have hurricane drills. I think people after Columbine began to see that kids do need to have a plan of action,” she said, adding a dash of her own experience with drilling as a child: “I grew up long ago and we had fire drills and tornado drills. We had nuclear drills. I still remember getting under my desk in the ‘50s. Looking back that probably wasn’t going to do us much good.”

 

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