School shooter drills

With school shootings becoming more common, many districts have mandated that schools have a stipulated number of drills each school year to prepare students (“School shooter drills terrorize our kids pointlessly,” New York Post, June 3).  The rationale is that doing so will lessen the possibility of harm.

Yet critics argue that such soft—lockdown drills unnecessarily create severe anxiety in children.  Moreover, they say that the odds of being killed by a gun in school is roughly 1 in 614,000,000.  By comparison, the odds of dying in a car crash are 1 in 103.  As a result, critics ask why we react so differently to the two threats.

I don’t doubt that these drills are capable of making young children in particular anxious.  But what are overlooked are the legal implications of abolishing the drills, which in today’s litigious society would leave districts open to lawsuits claiming negligence.  It’s a little like doctors practicing defensive medicine in order to protect themselves against malpractice suits.  Both strategies may seem unnecessary at first glance, but are necessary.

It’s impossible to make all schools 100 percent safe.  But there are things that schools can take to lessen the possibility.  Stationing screening agents at the front door is a step in the right direction.  Critics will complain that doing so violates the privacy rights of students.  Yet that’s a small price to pay.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

8 Replies to “School shooter drills”

  1. Guns in schools are not new. Growing up I heard many stories about my father, his siblings and cousins, their feuds, and the screening that was done on them for gun parts before they left their houses. That was in the years between the great wars and it was Texas but the bullets killed just the same. The similarity was that in that world, every family had guns because they hunted for food and sometimes they needed firearms for protection. And sometimes innocent people were killed.
    Our culture supports guns though we don’t need them to put food on the table or for protection. Why do we still have them for just about everybody who desires? Kids see what they see and to put such responsibility for gun safety on the schools feels unfair to me and an abdication of national responsibility. These shootings are not the fault of our schools.

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    1. dkhatt: Guns are part of this country’s fiber. Since it is, schools need to protect their students and avoid liability for not doing enough. Unfortunately, we have not seen the last of shootings in schools.

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  2. Agree that school systems potentially face lawsuits if they do not conduct the shooter drills. However, I’m pretty sure the school systems would prevail in those lawsuits.

    In any event, I wish school systems would be guided by what is best for the students, not what is the best way to avoid lawsuits, when making policy decisions.

    The shooter drills would flunk any cost/benefit analysis. The chances that any specific school will be the subject of an active shooter are infinitesimal and, even in where a school is the subject of an active shooter, it’s unlikely that the shooter drills will significantly reduce the number of casualties. On the other side of the equation, there is — as you correctly note — the psychological harm done to the millions of students subjected to the shooter drills. And, there is the literally millions of student-hours wasted during these drills.

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  3. Labor Lawyer: I don’t see any solution to this issue. The only comfort is that the odds of being shot on school grounds is infinitesimal compared to other risks. I also question if drills really prepare students for the reality of a shooter on campus.

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  4. There’s also the issue of whether conducting active-shooter drills increases the likelihood that a student will become a shooter. There obviously are thousands of depressed, mentally-ill and/or very angry teenagers in our middle and high schools. For these teenagers, participating in active-shooter drills will — at a minimum — remind the teenager that becoming an active shooter is an option open to him (or her).

    This consideration — that conducting active-shooter drills will result in a teenager becoming an active shooter who would not have become an active shooter absent the drills — seems, to me at least, a compelling argument for any school system that declines to conduct active-shooter drills and then is sued following an active-shooter event at a school in the system. That is, the school system would argue that, when all the possibilities were considered and each possibility discounted by the odds of it occurring, it would be negligent for a school system to conduct active shooter drills rather than not conduct active shooter drills.

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  5. Labor Lawyer: When I was teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District, gang members began congregating on the sidewalk outside school grounds. The principal, a former Marine brigadier general, recognized the potential for harm and demanded armed security guards on campus. Students knew these agents carried sidearms, but that did not in any way serve as an incentive to likewise bring weapons to school. We routinely conduct fire drills. I doubt doing so prompts students to become arsonists.

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  6. Just guessing, but it’s likely that fire drills and bomb-threat-evacuation drills do make it slightly more likely that disgruntled students will start fires or plant bombs — or, at least call in a threat to do so. When students see everyone marching out of class and standing on the football field for 15 minutes, it naturally gives students the idea — “Gee, what would happen if I called in a bomb threat or pulled a fire alarm? Look at the disruption I could cause!” I do know of at least one instance where a student at our local high school called in a bomb threat in order to avoid classes that morning. Obviously, students will get these ideas with or without the drills, but the drills probably make it somewhat more likely that the students will get these ideas. Certainly, the drills will not make it less likely.

    This line of analysis likewise suggests that the media should not devote so much coverage to school shootings — that is, when the media publicize the school shootings, common sense suggests that the publicity will encourage copycats. The fact that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of mass shootings (school and otherwise) per year since Columbine, strongly supports the copycat analysis. Obviously, it’s possible that there are just more alienated/outcast/mentally-ill potential shooters around each year and/or that there are more guns around each year, but it seems that the number of mass shootings has increased much more post-Columbine than the number of potential shooters or number of guns has increased post-Columbine.

    This — to what extent, if any, shooter drills make it more likely a student will become a shooter — is an intriguing, important, and, from what I’ve seen in the media, rarely discussed issue. If, in fact, shooter drills make it more likely that a student will become a shooter, then it would follow that schools should not be conducting the drills — even if conducting the drills did make it more likely that students would survive an actual shooting. At least, psychologists should be expressing some informed expert opinions re the likelihood that the drills will encourage a student to become a shooter and school systems should be taking these expert opinions into account when deciding whether to conduct the shooter drills.

    My guess is that most school systems are going ahead with the shooter drills out of either an unreasoning sense of “we have to do something” or, as you note, a desire to limit litigation liability if there were a shooting.

    My bottom line is that the shooter drills consume literally hundreds of thousands — probably millions — of student hours each year and that there is little/no reason to believe that wasting all those student hours is saving lives. (Or, if it is saving, say five lives/year, this is a productive use of those millions of student hours — spending those millions of hours on the dangers of excessive drinking or drinking-and-driving would definitely save many more lives/year.

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  7. Labor Lawyer: There’s always the possibility that drills of any kind can encourage some students to engage in precisely the behavior that such drills try to avoid. But I keep coming back to the liability issue. If schools can show they took all reasonable steps to prevent shootings and other violence, they would be in a better position to mount a defense against a lawsuit for negligence.

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