Jun 21, 2022 - Politics

New law aims to make school lockdown drills less traumatic

Illustration of young seated woman with her head in her hands and a scribble bubble above her head
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A new Washington state law bans schools from holding active shooter drills if the exercise tries too hard to mimic the real thing.

Why it matters: Even after last month's school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, state officials say hyper-realistic enactments of school shootings aren't the best way to prepare kids and teachers — and may cause psychological harm instead.

  • A study published last year found that active shooter drills — which can include simulated gunfire, fake blood and even pretend attackers — increased students' levels of anxiety, stress and depression by about 40%.

What's happening: In March, Washington's legislature voted to ban such practice scenarios unless they are age-appropriate and trauma-informed, meaning they try to avoid making kids relive traumatic experiences.

What they're saying: Mike Donlin, school safety center program supervisor with the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, told Axios that schools will still be required to hold regular safety drills, which include lockdowns.

  • But those exercises shouldn't include gruesome details or realistic reenactments of armed shooters wandering the halls, he said.
  • "Doing those kinds of full scale exercises with blood and guts, and bullets and all that stuff — that's not good. We don't want to do that," Donlin told Axios this month.
  • He added the state superintendent's office occasionally gets reports of those kinds of simulations happening at schools in Washington, although it's not an everyday occurrence.

The other side: State Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley) said during a Senate floor debate in March that holding realistic shooter drills can help save kids' lives.

  • "Worse than trauma would be for some school student to be killed because they weren't properly prepared," said Padden, who voted against the measure, House Bill 1941.

The bottom line: Schools will still perform lockdown drills so students are aware of the steps to take if they are confronted with a real shooter.

  • But their training will focus more on securing doors and getting familiar with safe evacuation routes, rather than trying to simulate the horror of a real-life shooting.
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