Mental Health and School Lockout Exercises

In the wake of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, experts are suggesting more changes to school closure drills.

The most important message: make sure exercises are trauma-informed.

The National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of School Resource Officers have guidelines for trauma-informed target practice to balance the safety and mental wellbeing of students, staff, and faculty.

And according to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 96 percent of U.S. schools require some sort of lockdown exercise.

Lockdown is an umbrella term for an exercise in preparation for a threat in or near the school. But there is no set standard.

From state to state, from school district to school district, exercises can be very different.

Jaclyn Schildkraut, a criminal justice professor at the State University of New York at Oswego, studies school closing exercises.

She says exercises should build muscle memory and build confidence.

Research shows that if a student has an anxiety or trauma reaction, their ability to focus and remember may suffer.

What does a trauma-informed exercise look like?

“There’s no need to have a live simulation,” says Dr. Robin Gurwitch, a clinical psychologist at the Center for Child and Family Health. “We didn’t start fires or place smoke bombs to practice fire drills.”

“We didn’t just put kids in a room and expect them to perform,” Schildkraut says. “We talked to them about why they did what they did, what they needed to do.”

The content of debriefs before and after an exercise is also crucial.

“How are you going to ensure that students who may have experienced recent trauma understand the exercises?” asks Gurwitch. “Do parents know there will be an exercise?”

Experts think it will be a long time before we can see a universal drilling protocol like what exists now for a fire or tornado drill.

They also add that while it’s incredibly horrific, a mass school shooting in the context of school crime is still a statistically rare event — meaning protecting mental health and preparing for the worst is just as important. .

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