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Improvements to school lock-down drills in Virginia

Posted:  -  By: Ashley Airington

School lock-down drills, also known as “Active Shooter Drills” have become nearly ubiquitous in public schools across the nation. While the intent of  lock-down drills is to prepare teachers and students to protect themselves if faced with an unimaginable dangerous situation, recent reports and statements from the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association cite the traumatic effect these drills are having on some children and a lack of evidence to support the effectiveness of these drills.

Currently in Virginia, all public schools are required to perform at least four lock-down drills per school calendar year. Two bills focusing on improvements to school lock-down drill practices have made progress during the 2020 General Assembly session.

 

2020 legislation to improve school lock-down drills 

Delegate and high school teacher,  Schuyler VanValkenburg of Henrico, patroned  HB270, which addresses parental notice of upcoming lock-down drills. Specifically, this bill requires every public school to give parents at least 24hours’ notice before conducting any lock-down drills. Defeated in committee during the 2019, this bill is incredibly important because it give families an opportunity to have conversations with their children about the purpose of these drills and respond to questions or fears kids may have about these active shooter drills.

 

These lock-down drills impact not just high school students, but kindergarteners as well (and some children in public pre-k, too!) and it’s important to remember that 5 year olds and 17 year olds are at very different developmental stages. All children and youth require the support of their families or trusted adults to help them regulate their emotions. Giving families notice about a potentially scary event, allows families the opportunity to provide the emotional support all children need.

 

Equally as important, Delegate Mark Keam-Fairfax Co, sponsored HB402, a bill that exempts Kindergarten students from mandatory participation in lock-down drills during the first 60-days of school.  In implementing this exemption,  Principals  at each relevant school  are given the option to 1) conduct teacher-only drills or other suitable training for kindergarten teachers or 2) notify each parent of kindergarten student at least five school days in advance of each planned lock-down drill and permit parents to opt their child out of participating in these drills during the first 60 days of school. Kindergarten students will still be required to participate in each lock-down drills after the first 60 days of the school session.

 

The New School Safety Report, co-written by the NEA & AFT, and discussed during the Feb 13th Senate Education and Health Subcommittee on Public Education, a few recommendations include:

  1. Parents should be given advanced notice before a lock-down drill occurs.
  2. Drills must be age appropriate and should be coupled with trauma-informed instruction and mental health/counseling supports before and after such drills.

These bills are both steps in the right direction. Let’s ensure that we are not doing more harm than good and protecting the emotional health and well-being of all our children.

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