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WA Superintendent: Active shooter drills more ‘traumatizing’ than they’re worth

Thousands of protesters at a rally following a march in favor of gun control at the Seattle Center on March 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Teachers’ unions and gun control advocates are calling for an end to student participation in active shooter drills, calling them ‘ineffective’ and ‘traumatizing.’

Chris Reykdal, Washington state superintendent of public instruction, clarified Wednesday on KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show that Washington does not mandate active shooter drills in schools.

“We do traditional fire drills, escape drills, and shelter-in-place drills,” he said. “…We don’t mandate those really intensive, traumatizing shooter drills where kids wear fake blood and teachers are shot with rubber bullets.”

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While Reykdal believes some schools in the state are holding active shooter drills, he does not think they are appropriate. There is no research to show that these type of drills make students safer.

Reykdal identified suicide as the bigger risk facing our students today.

“We lose two school age kids a week to suicide,” he said. “That’s probably [600-800] students every four years. This state has only had one student lose their life to an active shooter in school. … The risk is so much greater on the mental health side than on active shooter side.”

Districts may not be uniform in their drills, but there is a sequence they all must follow. Every month or so, there needs to be a drill, which includes fire drills, earthquake drills at least once a year, and shelter-in-place drills where the kids are told about a situation outside the building, from something like a bank robbery to a chemical spill, and students practice huddling in place.

There is evidence to support training teachers in the case of an active shooter, preparing them with strategies to keep kids as safe as possible through shelter-in-place drills and release drills, but Reykdal does not believe teachers should be armed.

“The only research we have here is that gun density is highly correlated with homicide and suicide,” Reykdal said. “So the more guns you have in any environment, the higher the probability of risk.”

To help address the problems of mental health and suicide at the school level, Reykdal emphasized the importance of identifying the stressors that contribute to student and family stress and teaching students where to get help.

“We’ve got to teach kids how to access resources, either for themselves, a family member, somebody they know,” Reykdal said. “So we’re having conversations with kids much earlier in our health curriculum, talking about mental health now and where they get help. What signs should they look for? How do they refer somebody? How do they talk to a counselor or safe adult about it?”

With the recent sexual health education bills in Olympia, there have been a lot of misconceptions and misinformation about what would be required if it were to pass.

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Reykdal clarified that everything is community based, age appropriate, and science based. The idea is focused on teaching younger students the “building blocks” of identity, personal rights, what’s appropriate, and safe adults to talk to in times of need.

“It’s building these concepts of self-protection,” he said. “So by the time they get to late elementary, middle, and they’re talking about reproduction, they understand their bodies and their rights. And by the time we get to high school, we’re talking about avoidance behaviors and sexual activity.”

This curriculum is all adopted locally, with no state mandate about content, and, as always, every parent has the right to opt out of any or all of it.

Listen to the Gee and Ursula weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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