If a violent threat is just around the corner, it would make sense to run in the opposite direction and out the door to safety, right? And if a school decides to ban cellphones to keep students engaged in the classroom, it’s obvious why it would concern worried parents trying to get in contact with their child in such an event.
These two thought processes are commonly presented by parents to school districts as shootings and violent threats continue to plague K-12 schools across the country. However, lockdown drills and banning cellphones are sound safety procedures that help to keep schools quiet and secure during an immediate threat, and district leaders must continue to reiterate that message to parents.
Several weeks ago in North Carolina, an East Wake High School student was suspended for leaving school grounds during a lockdown after receiving permission from her mother to do so.
“When I came into this building, I looked at both exits,” the mother said during a school board meeting addressing her concerns over her daughter’s suspension. “If someone were to walk in here right now with a gun, you’re not going to stand here and defend me. You’re going to run and try and save yourself.
“All I could think about was the safety of my children.”
Although her child made it out of the building with no trouble, that may not always be the case, according to Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services. Refusing to follow school safety policies can create headaches for first responders who are focused on neutralizing a threat.
“When students self-evacuate rather than lock down, they expose themselves to a potential gunman when school leaders do not want to create a target-rich environment in the halls, stairwells and outside grounds,” he says.
Additionally, students may risk being harmed by the least likely target.
“Law enforcement is trained to the standard of single officer entry where the first officer on scene enters the school with one goal: to neutralize the shooter. When hundreds or thousands of students and adults are self-evacuating, they risk running directly into incoming officers who do not know if they are the shooter and delaying officers from getting to the source of the attack.”
Lockdowns continue to be the gold standard for schools in the event of an active threat, Trump says. According to recent research by Dr. Jaclyn Schildkraut, associate professor of criminal justice at SUNY Oswego and a national expert on mass shootings, lockdown drills help students to feel less fearful while also lowering their perceived level of risk.
Banning cell phones
Restricting cell phone use, or simply banning it altogether, has become an increasingly popular trend in schools across the country. However, it’s becoming more difficult for schools to implement due to the importance of technology for instruction, Trump points out.
“We are seeing an interesting pivot nationally of school administrators banning cellphones,” he says. “Most of this is due to distractions and disruptions of the educational process. Many years ago schools banned cellphones, but the situation evolved to where they were used more as instructional tools so the school administrators shifted from banning them to trying to get some clear terms of when and how phones could be used during the school day.”
Despite the argument from parents, keeping phones out of the hands of children during the event has the potential to save lives, he explains.
“Cell phones pose a significant distraction and potential safety risk during an actual emergency,” Trump says. “Students need to be fully focusing on the directives of teachers and other adults. Cell phone use creates a distraction when students are calling, texting, live streaming, or otherwise on the phones during an active threat situation. The noise from cell phone use can attract the attention of a potential gunman to an otherwise quiet, locked down classroom.”
So as districts continue to navigate through the school year with an increased focus on school safety, remember this: Preparation and training go a long way in preventing tragedy in the event of an immediate threat.