Educators raising concerns over active shooter drills

Feb 12, 2020

Two of the country’s largest teachers unions announced Tuesday that they want schools to rethink student involvement in active shooter drills. They say practice lockdowns can traumatize students and may even be counter-productive. But are Western New York unions ready to walk away from lockdowns?

The NEA and the American Teachers Federation are raising concerns over student involvement in active shooter drills.
Credit National Education Association

The leaders of three local teachers unions say they’re not ready to get rid of lockdowns entirely, but all of them agree the issue to really focus on is students’ mental health.

"To have drills that are not announced, that are not walk-through, that have elements of violence in them can really cause a lot of anxiety and frighten students," said Joe Cantafio, president of the West Seneca Teachers Association.

Cantafio says lockdowns are part of a broader school safety plan in the West Seneca Central School District, which is focused on building relationships with students through mentoring, social workers and school resource officers. That’s in line with what the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and Everytown for Gun Safety recommended Tuesday.

"There is a need for more mental health professionals within the buildings because when students feel out of place or when behavior issues crop up because of other outlying issues, those do pose safety risks for not only staff but also students in the building," said Daniel Weiss, president of  the Niagara Falls Teachers Union.

National unions are warning that it might be counter-productive to share lockdown procedures with students, whom studies show are nearly always the perpetrators of school shootings. They also point out that less than half of one percent (0.2%) of deaths from gun violence in the U.S. occur on school grounds every year.

Offering a counterpoint is Patrick Canna, owner of Defensor Inc., a Grand Island company that does active shooter trainings for businesses and churches.

"Fires in schools are very rare, so why do we have fire drills still?" 

With New York State banning teachers from carrying guns, Canna says lockdown drills are one of the few remaining options left to prepare schools and students for a possible shooting.

"I think a policy on lockdowns is something that should be developed in cooperation with parents, teachers, administrators and City Hall," said Phil Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation. He says many students have already experienced trauma, so Buffalo Public Schools has to be careful with any active shooter drills.

"This is something that we all oughta sit down and take a look at."

The AFT and NEA now say they don’t recommend student involvement in lockdown drills. If school districts do decide to hold drills, the unions and Everytown for Gun Safety outlined specific guidelines designed to minimize their impact on students and educators. The pointers include not making simulations too realistic and notifying parents, students and teachers well in advance.