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School shooting drills: How are realistic scenarios affecting students?

Published: Thursday, November 14, 2019 @ 5:45 PM

School Shooting Drills PTSD | I-Team Investigation

As schools continue to try and prepare students and staff for the worst — a mass shooting — some people are questioning the affect lifelike school shooter drills have on students.

News Center 7’s I-Team is digging deeper into school shooting drills becoming more realistic — and frightening.

With a school shooting today in Santa Clarita, California, the topic is on the minds of many people.

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District leaders’ common argument for realistic drills is that reality is necessary to prepare staff and students for what could happen.

>> RELATED: Richmond school shooting: 14-year-old took hostage, mom called in tip

But the I-Team’s Gabrielle Enright discovered some of these drills are so realistic that instead of helping kids, they might be harming their mental health.

For many, the 12 people killed and 21 hurt at Columbine School on April 20, 1999, forever changed the perception of school shootings.

Fast forward 13 years, and more than 400 school gun violence incidents later, to Newton, Connecticut.

That perception was tested again after the Sandy Hook mass shooting left 20 first-graders and six adults dead.

And 19 years after Columbine, and more than 700 school gun violence incidents, it all hit home in Richmond, Indiana, last December.

A former Dennis Intermediate School died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after forcing his way into the school, causing an active shooter incident.

Since the 1970s, the Naval Post Graduate School has tracked every school incident where a gun was brandished or fired or a bullet hit a school.

Last year hit an all-time high of 110 incidents.

So far in 2019, there’s been at least 67.

That means local school districts are always preparing for the worst, while hoping for the best.

Franklin High School sophomore Samantha Earnhart knew ahead of time that her school would hold an active shooter drill.

>> RELATED: ‘I started to cry’: Franklin students describe active shooter training involving blanks

“It was scary,” she said. “I knew it was happening, but I still jumped.”

She said the sounds made as trainers fired blank cartridges upset her.

“It was very emotional. I started to cry,” Earnhart said. “I just don’t know. It’s a really horrible situation, if that were to actually happen.”

District officials said that drill’s emotional trauma resulting in six of Earnhart’s classmates being escorted out of the school during the exercise.

“We would not have done this if we didn’t think our students couldn’t handle it,” said Principal Kelli Fromm.
While Fromm said the drill’s reality was necessary to prepare students and staff, Julie Stucke, a child psychologist with Dayton Children’s Hospital, is questioning districts implementing the practice.

“In my opinion, I don’t think they need these kinds of drills,” she said. “There’s no research that suggests these types of drills are anymore effective than just educating people verbally or through writing.”

Stucke said that if your child is acting differently after a school shooting drill they may need to talk to a professional.

Look for changes in behavior or sleep patterns and consider having them talk with a counselor if them have nightmare and continue to talk about what they saw. 

While the number of gun incidents at school may look high, the psychologist said perspective is important.

>> RELATED: PHOTOS: Franklin holds active shooter training for high school students

Mass shooting deaths are still statistically rare.

You’re three times more likely to die choking, 10 times more likely to drown and more than 23 times more likely to die in a car crash, according to the National Safety Council.

Local districts, like other school districts across the country, continue practicing active shooter exercises.

Parents the I-Team spoke to had mixed feelings.

“Knowledge is power and I think we need to teach — even 3-year-olds,” said Jenny Bullman. “If you see someone with a gun and someone tells you to do something, you do it.”

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for a 7-year-old,” said Tom Lohner. “I think it’s just too young. You’d scare them.”

Similar scenarios turned into a realistic, viral video as kids went back to school this year.

In the national nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise video, you see students using their new school supplies to protect themselves and their classmates during a school shooting scenario.

>> RELATED: Mother who called to warn about Richmond school shooting charged, in custody

That’s what happened at Dennis Intermediate, said a Richmond, Indiana, mom.

“[My daughter] said they were hiding under their desks. They had sharpened pens and pencils to make weapons,” said Shelle Emmons. “They had scissors. And they were ready to fight.”

No parent the I-Team talked to wanted to have a conversation about school shooting with their kids.

But all of them said the reality of today, and with drills turning more and more realistic, has left them no choice.