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Active shooter drills causing trauma for elementary school children

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Students around the state are gearing up for another school year.

You remember how it is… a new school year comes with a plethora of stresses from homework and class time to making new friends, but kids these days are dealing with worldly stresses many of us didn’t experience.

School officials say some elementary school-aged children are experiencing trauma from back to school “lockdown” drills.

Ben Horsley, Granite School District Spokesperson, says schools throughout the district and across the state are required by the state of Utah to perform the drills during the school year. 

There are three kinds of lockdown drills within the Granite School District:

  • Shelter in place —- threat in the community school proceeds with exterior doors locked  
  • Lockdown — threat on or near campus all doors are locked and students contained 
  • Lockdown with cover —threat on campus and hiding and securing is necessary for safety

Age-appropriate videos are shown to children before lockdown drills to help them know what the drill will look like. Horsley says the school district does this to help eliminate the trauma and show them what the drill will be like before they are thrown into it. 

Each school keeps in mind the lasting trauma these drills can inflict on students and proceed with caution. 

Horsley says fire and lockdown drills are required and practiced on a regular basis. Training is provided in each school to each teacher and administrator. 

Utah schools also participate in active shooter situations. “I want to be really clear–the reality is that that type of situation of actually occurring is very minimal, but what really cures kids’ anxiety in those situations is to practice,” Horsley says. 

Horsley says the schools try to have as many “active shooter situation drills” as possible in hopes to help students feel comfortable about what is happening in an age-appropriate way. 

“Any sort of drill we do we are always going to notify parents. There’s obviously some communication there we want to make sure happens,”  Horsley says about children in grades Kindergarten to middle school. 

Horsely says notes and emails are sent home addressing when drills will occur to notify parents, encouraging them to talk to their student and also eliminate alarm in the community when they hear of the drills.   

“The reality of that type of situation actually occurring in our schools is very minimal but we still want to prepare for it just in case.”

Schools across the state have been built and remodeled with safety features helping to ensure student safety. 

They’ve added covered exterior and interior windows and a protective case built around front offices with mandatory check-ins and check-outs by all who visit the school. 

Stephanie Lauritzen, high school teacher and parent of two, says the term “lockdown drill” in general can inflict trauma. 

“Automatically the language we use for these drills is really concerning to me because we’re either using things like an active shooter drill which is terrifying, or we’re turning schools into prison and having a lockdown drill,” Laurizen says.

As a mother, Lauritzen says she has had to focus on things she can control. “The only way to cope with it is to do what I can; I have had to resign myself that I can’t keep my kids safe–whether they’re my own children or they’re my students.”  

Lauritzen says she wants her school to fill the lag time after her children’s schools participate in a lockdown drill. 

“I think the scary thing is there’s a lag time after a traumatic event and whether you want to admit it or not, even a lockdown drill is a traumatic event.”  

As a mother of elementary school-aged children and a high school teacher Lauritzen says she feels parents and teachers should be given the resources on what to do after the lockdown and navigate the tough conversations on why they have to be practiced.  

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