After-school chats between parents and their kids now increasingly include questions about a gruesome subject rarely discussed in the not-so-distant past — active shooters in schools and what to do if that happens.
These talks locally include some children describing police officers firing off explosively loud, blank gun shots as screeching PA announcements warning of an active shooter echo through the classrooms.
Or of students seeing fully armored SWAT teams, with guns drawn, moving through school hallways, often lined with volunteer students sprawled on the floor done up in fake, bloody wounds.
And tense re-enactments of school hostage situations, where some teachers and students survive and some don’t.
These parent-child talks are happening more frequently, said school parents and school security experts, as “trauma-informed education” becomes increasingly commonplace in more local school districts.
In the wake of the growing number of realistic school security drills — prompted in large part by 2018’s school massacres in Florida and Texas — some school parents are weary and worried about their impacts on their children.
In recent months Ross, Edgewood, and most recently, Franklin schools held security drills involving varying degrees of realistic depictions of an armed attacker inflicting deadly violence in their schools.
Lakota Schools parent Jen Smith-Bui appreciates her Butler County district hasn’t yet gone to theatrical lengths some other schools have in teaching students what to do during a school attack, but her children see news accounts online start asking questions.
“It is terrifying the sort of drills some other districts put their kids through,” said Smith-Bui. “And it’s really challenging to talk to my kids about it.”
“Our world is really scary and there’s a lot of (internet) stuff hitting them (students) all the time but we don’t want a situation where children are terrified to walk out the door and go to school,” she said.
But some area school officials – and local law enforcement leaders - argue they have no choice other than conducting realistic active shooter drills.
Franklin police Lt. Gerald Massey defended last week’s school drills, saying, “parents don’t teach their children to drive for fear they’ll crash. Parents teach their children to drive, so they don’t crash. Knowledge is power.”
Massey said police and school officials have met and debriefed, and the school district did not receive any official complaints other than some negative comments on social media from outside the school district.
He said they might change where some of the fake gunshots were fired with the school, but that was the only change police suggested for the future.
Franklin High School Principal Kelli Fromm said he received a few complaints, but everything overall was positive and “an empowering day for students.”
School officials said about a dozen students did opt-out of the drill and a handful of students saw counselors during the drill for anxiety.
That’s not surprising said school security expert Kenneth Trump, who said Franklin Schools’ approach “seems highly unnecessary and over the top.”
Trump, president of Cleveland-based National School Safety and Security Services, said these drills leave a lot of questions about their impact on children with special needs, age, and developmental, emotional and behavioral challenges.
Trump said school-age children do not possess the intellectual and emotional capacity to fight off an attacker at a moment’s notice — as called for in ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) school security training — and self-evacuation creates a target-rich environment.
PRACTICE MAKES PROTECTION
During the summer break, Ross Schools hosted the largest active shooter drill in the history of Butler County, involving the sheriff department, numerous area police, fire and EMS agencies, and volunteer high school students from numerous districts.
It was jarring for some to watch as the scenario acted out included a disgruntled husband of a just-fire school teacher barging in with handgun into a Ross school board meeting, shooting some members dead and taking the superintendent hostage into a classroom.
But, Steve Castator, director of pupil personnel for Ross Schools, said the only way for students, teachers and school staffers to better their chances of survival during an armed attack is to train for it.
And traditional school security drills, such as building lockdowns where teachers and students shelter in place, aren’t enough, he said.
“We want to ensure that our staff and students feel empowered in emergency situations to refer back to their training and make the best decisions they can given the specific situation. We feel like we’ve moved to creating specific (attack) scenarios that test responses versus just practicing traditional lockdowns and evacuations,” said Castator.
Realistic security drills, said Edgewood School officials, are crucial for keeping schools safe, but they must be done with an emphasis on communicating with school parents and the public.
The district conducted a series of security scenarios – using Butler County Sheriff deputies and Trenton Police - between Sept. 25 through Oct. 4.
“We notified our parents, staff, and community prior to our drills taking place, as well as during the window of time the drills were scheduled,” said Pam Pratt, spokeswoman for Edgewood Schools.
“This communication strategy was extremely effective. Many individuals expressed their appreciation in knowing what was planned in advance, so they were not confused by the activities they may see or hear from others,” said Pratt.
Edgewood school parent Angie Turner appreciates the district’s emphasis on preparing for all possible deadly violence situations, and said the anxieties some students and families have about them is unavoidable.
“Any kind of security drill involving students is going to be scary at some point, but the drills are necessary,” said Turner.
“I’m very confident with our district being proactive and with our kids knowing what to do in any emergency,” she said.
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