WASHINGTON—U.S. Representatives Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., introduced the School Safety Drill Research Act of 2021 to study the potential mental health effects of active shooter drills in K-12 schools. The study’s findings will help inform and identify best practices in order to maximize the effectiveness of school safety drills while minimizing the trauma to students and staff members.
Specifically, the legislation authorizes $1 million for the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine to examine the possible mental health effects of active shooter drills, lockdown drills, and other firearm violence prevention activities in schools on school staff and students, including younger children and children with disabilities.
Last Congress, the same provision—authored by Murphy and Perlmutter—was approved by the House Appropriations Committee as part of the Fiscal Year 2021 funding bill for the U.S Department of Education, but it was ultimately excluded after negotiations with the Senate. The same request was made by Murphy and Perlmutter for inclusion in the Fiscal Year 2022 Department of Education funding bill.
“Schools must have clear and accurate information about the best way to conduct active shooter drills. As a mother, I know how traumatic and confusing these experiences can be for children,” said Murphy. “This bipartisan bill will ensure that schools have the best information to prepare students for potential violence, while protecting them from any lasting trauma.”
“Colorado has had more than its fair share of active shooter and school shooting tragedies, leaving many students traumatized and frightened. We must ensure school safety drills don’t trigger these anxieties and instead give students the knowledge to respond appropriately to threatening situations and potentially help save lives,” said Perlmutter. “This research will help inform school administrators as they balance school preparedness with the mental health of students and staff.”
“One of the keys to preventing school violence is equipping students, teachers, and administrators with the skills they need to properly react to potential threats before a tragedy occurs,” said Fitzpatrick. “I am proud to support this bipartisan bill to research the impacts of active school shooter drills on the mental health of our young and vulnerable student populations.”
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 95 percent of U.S. public schools conduct school safety drills annually.
“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 of School Psychologists.
“The best way to make our schools safer is to focus on proven policies and programs designed to intervene before gun violence can happen, instead of relying on extreme drills that can traumatize children, robbing them of their belief that schools are, in fact, extremely safe spaces,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. “We stand proudly with Representatives Murphy, Perlmutter, and Fitzpatrick, and House appropriators advocating for greater funding to better understand the trauma these drills have on our children.”
“The National Education Association applauds the introduction of the School Safety Drill Research Act by Rep. Ed Perlmutter, Rep. Stephanie Murphy, and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick. It is imperative that we have safe schools for students, educators, and staff. Creating emergency plans to respond quickly and help mitigate emergency incidents is a must. However, there is very little evidence that safety drills help with this. This bill is essential to truly understand the unintentional impact these drills may have on all parties involved and help schools move forward with trauma-informed alternatives,” said Marc Egan, Director of Government Relations, National Education Association.
“As we continue to reopen America’s schools for safe in-person learning, 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. 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,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. “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 for taking on this important issue.”
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.