The union representing school teachers in Massachusetts is supporting a move by national teacher organizations to end active shooter drills with students, citing a growing concern that school lockdowns and drills are leaving students traumatized.
Massachusetts does not track how many schools practice lock down drills to prepare for a possible shooting, but teachers’ unions say such drills are widely practiced in public schools both nationally and here in Massachusetts.
School leaders said they are required to plan for emergencies and work closely with local and state police to prevent school shootings and plan for responses if one does occur.
Merrie Najimy, the head of Massachusetts Teachers Association, said school leaders need to understand root causes of school-based violence and rethink shooter drills and lockdowns.
“I've been through it. It is a scary experience for our students,” said Najimy. “It's very stressful and lockdown is just a narrow and fear-based view of how to address a serious problem. It doesn't get at the root causes.”
Najimy said better funding would allow schools to hire more counselors and have smaller classes so teachers and staff could better identify and help students at risk of harming themselves and others.
“The real solution is not these active shooter drills,” she said. “It's a combination of gun safety laws combined with fully funded schools so that there are enough counselors and social workers and small class sizes.”
Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said school districts create their own policies to prepare for a possible school shooting and said the practice is similar to the necessity of fire drills.
“It’s a different set of problems but not problems we haven’t had in another form,” he said. “Kids live with a lot of anxiety today and it has to be taken into account how you proceed and talk to kids about it and do this in a way that is not threatening.”
Scott said schools typically do not notify parents or publicize when an active shooter drill or school lockdown will be happening.
A spokesman for Boston Public Schools said that Boston Police train school staff on what to do in the case of an active shooter but students are not present for this training.