WASHINGTON—The U.S. House of Representatives today approved a provision spearheaded by Reps. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., and Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., to provide $1 million for independent experts to publish a study on the potential mental health effects of active shooter drills in elementary and secondary schools. Once schools re-open in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the report will give state leaders and school administrators information they can use to maximize the effectiveness of the drills, while minimizing the trauma to students—especially younger students and students with disabilities—and staff members. The Murphy-Perlmutter measure was approved as part of a broader bill that funds the U.S Department of Education for the upcoming fiscal year. The two Members of Congress will now fight to ensure this provision is retained when the House and Senate reconcile their versions of the funding bills.
“Once this pandemic subsides and students are able to safely return to the classroom, schools should have clear and accurate information about the best way to conduct active shooter drills. The reality is that these are traumatic experiences, especially for our younger students. As a mom, I know they require us to have difficult conversations with our kids to explain why they’re needed in the first place,” said Murphy. “This study will give schools the expert information they need to protect students from the physical threat of school shootings without causing long-lasting trauma in the process. I’m proud to have worked to pass this important measure in the House and I will keep fighting to win its approval in the Senate.”
“This research will provide important empirical evidence as to how to keep students, teachers and staff safe while prioritizing their mental health,” said Perlmutter. “I appreciate the leadership of our educators, healthcare experts and gun safety advocates in working to ensure school safety drills don’t cause unnecessary anxiety and trauma for our students.”
Under the Murphy-Perlmutter initiative, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine would use the congressional funding to examine the possible emotional and behavioral effects on students and staff of active shooter drills, lockdown drills, and other firearm violence prevention activities in K-12 schools. Their report would identify best practices that can be adopted to minimize these negative impacts.
There is substantial anecdotal evidence showing a connection between school safety drills and negative mental health effects on students and staff, but additional empirical research is required. Organizations like the National Association of School Psychologists and Everytown for Gun Safety, working with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, have done important work to develop best practices and make recommendations regarding school safety drills. Each of these organizations has endorsed the Murphy-Perlmutter provision, along with the National Parent Teacher Association.
“Despite the widespread use of lockdown drills, active shooter drills, and other physical security initiatives, little research has been done to examine the psychological impact these drills have on students, staff, and the community. Anecdotally, we have heard reports from our members that some of these efforts are traumatizing to students and staff. Comprehensive school safety must balance physical and psychological safety and improve, not harm, student wellbeing. This research will provide critical information to help guide evidence-based school safety efforts that minimize adverse effects on students and staff. NASP supports its funding,” said Kathleen Minke, PhD, NCSP, Executive Director of the National Association School Psychologists.
“Unannounced active shooter drills only serve to scare America’s students––not to make them safer. We applaud Rep. Murphy, Rep. Perlmutter, and House appropriators for advocating for critical funding to better understand the effects of these drills. We can and should be able to keep our schools safe without traumatizing children in the process,” said Shannon Watts, Founder of Moms Demand Action, the grassroots action network for Everytown for Gun Safety.
“The National Education Association applauds Reps. Murphy and Perlmutter for including $1 million in funding to conduct research on active shooter drills. I have heard first hand from parents and educators, about the trauma that students and educators experience around active shooter drills. It is imperative that—as a nation—we create safe schools. Since little empirical data exists that gives us a fuller view of the impact of active shooter drills on students, this research is a first step. Collecting such data can help to inform us on the real impact of active shooter drills have on the emotional well-being of our students, educators and staff,” said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President of the National Education Association.
“As we consider how to safely and equitably reopen America’s schools, we know that our students will be facing increased anxiety, trauma and all of the social, emotional and academic needs that have been heightened during months of distance learning. When it’s time to return to the classroom, safety is paramount—not only in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also in terms of the epidemic of gun violence that has plagued our schools for years. Making our schools safe sanctuaries involves investments in preparedness, but active shooter drills can be traumatic for students and educators alike, and we must study their impact and find other ways to invest in school safety. Thanks to Rep. Ed Perlmutter and Rep. Stephanie Murphy for taking on this important issue,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers.
A majority of American teens say they are worried about the possibility of a shooting happening at their school, and the National Center for Education Statistics found that 95 percent of U.S. public schools conduct school safety drills annually.