LETTER: Parent Opposes Holding Lockdown Drills at School

Print More

Dear Superintendent Galdston and School Committee,

I read with alarm in Watertown News that our schools are planning to conduct lockdown/ALICE/active shooter drills. Please reconsider this decision. I understand that there have been issues with false alarms, but it is extremely unclear how past false alarms should have any effect on whether we conduct these terrifying and dubiously effective drills. There is zero research to suggest that these drills do anything other than terrify students. In fact, your own announcement said “Sometimes it is too frightening for children,” and that you had decided not to do ALICE drills at elementary schools in the last few years for that reason. That decision was right, and I urge you to return to it.

Everytown for Gun Safety conducted a research review and determined that even though most schools do these drills, “there is almost no research affirming the value of these drills for preventing school shootings or protecting the school community when shootings do occur.” However, there is solid evidence that “Active shooter drills in schools are associated with increases in depression (39%), stress and anxiety (42%), and physiological health problems (23%).” These guys are not soft on school shootings! I’m sure that if they concluded these drills helped, they would be advocating them.

Proceeding with this plan to conduct lockdown/ALICE/active shooter drills will do nothing but scare our students, many of whom are already emotionally conditioned by the pandemic into a heightened state of anxiety, falsely expecting danger around every corner. School should be a place where kids can feel safe. Objectively, the schools are very safe – risk of violent incidents is extremely low, and Massachusetts schools are especially safe because of the hard work of our legislature and police passing and enforcing our strongest-in-the-nation gun laws. We should avoid doing anything that falsely convinces our students that they are not safe at school.

I urge you to reconsider this decision.

Matt Lashof-Sullivan
Watertown Parent

5 thoughts on “LETTER: Parent Opposes Holding Lockdown Drills at School

  1. I applaud your research on the effectiveness as well as the impact these drills have on Elementary age children. I need to read more on the research you outline. Elementary age children will feel safer if they know the adults have had training and also practice opportunities in responding to any crisis.

    From prior experience as a parent of two children, who are now young adults, staff / teacher training and proper use of crisis education is extremely important. I have seen the negative impact of having poor training staff, and the benefits of having properly trained staff. I believe that all of Watertown’s schools need firm crisis training, lock down training and most importantly, better communication systems.

    Research has shown that best way to help children feel safe is if they trust the knowledge and support of those around them. Please focus on crisis training for all staff – teachers, administrators, support staff, etc.

    Melissa Clark Umbsen, LICSW

    • I agree that staff should have training. This is about scary, worthless, and possibly counter-productive training for students.

  2. Hi Matt,

    Thanks for your thoughts on this important issue. I am also a Watertown parent of two students who have attended school in Watertown since Early Steps through high school graduation. I am also a retired Boston Public Schools high school teacher.

    On one point you are completely correct; active shooter incidents and mass shootings were a small portion of the overall gun activity on K-12 campuses in 2023…..but lets think about this….only a small portion of deaths come from active shooters so does that make “active shooter drills” unnecessary or more necessary?

    I think we should take a deeper-dive.

    You wrote, ” However, there is solid evidence that “Active shooter drills in schools are associated with increases in depression (39%), stress and anxiety (42%), and physiological health problems (23%).” These guys are not soft on school shootings! I’m sure that if they concluded these drills helped, they would be advocating them.” (where is this solid evidence coming from since it is hard to put these numbers in perspective without attribution.)

    I believe that we as parents of students, WPS, and a city as a whole, need to weigh the cost of depression and anxiety that the students may or may not experience from these drills with the need to have students prepared and knowledgeable what to do, who to listen to, how to act under extreme duress whether it is during an emergency, intruder, or active shooter (defined by the FBI as four or more murdered with a gun).

    Have you ever been on an airplane or a cruise ship? What is one of the first things you (and your family and kids) are told; in the event of a water landing, in the event of the ship sinking (life boats, life vests, emergency exits, protocol); in the event of cabin de-pressurizing this is what you should do; how you should act in the unlikely event these emergencies occur -yet they happen, correct? Most recently in Japan this played out on the runway, the fact the crew and passengers were able to de-plane with no loss of life moments before the plane exploded shows how vitally important training and drills are in emergency situations.

    I imagine if studies were done, on the effect of the slight chance the plane will crash (or a door will blow off a 737 SuperMax), on kids (and adults) they might have similar findings of anxiety and depression. A plane crash, a boat sinking, an unknown person wandering the halls of a school, is scary when you are on the plane or boat as much as the idea of having drills to protect you from being shot in school. If we can be honest, teachers and administrators and janitors don’t want to be shot either so these drills, when done in conjunction with municipal departments like the police, fire, etc, are the most effective in saving lives of our students.

    Unfortunately, shooting and active shooters in schools is the reality of the day. Let’s look at some numbers:

    2023 was a banner year for school shootings. Digest this fact for one moment:

    With a little less than two weeks remaining in the year (2023), some 340 school shootings had been recorded as of Dec. 20 by the K-12 School Shooting Database.*

    The good news is that deaths from school mass shootings in 2023 did not reach (2022) level, when 19 children and 2 teachers were killed by an active shooter in a single tragedy at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Although, is this really good news? There are still shootings in schools and students and faculty die.

    You argue that elementary schools should not engage in these drills yet if memory serves about Sandy Hook….. 26 people were murdered and 2 more injured yet it could have been more had it not been for the drills in place by the school.

    Sandy Hook Elementary School, a public school in Newtown for kindergarten through fourth grade…….. the encounter and the sounds of gunfire were broadcast to individual classrooms via the school’s public address system. ……In accordance with previously established lockdown protocols, teachers immediately took steps to attempt to safeguard their students, concealing them in closets or bathrooms and barricading doors with furniture or with their own bodies. (https://www.britannica.com/event/Sandy-Hook-Elementary-School-shooting).

    Yes, in Watertown, we are exceptionally lucky to have an excellent dedicated police force, first responders, top-notch teachers and administration, and a tight knit community which is why it is incumbent upon WPS to continue with active shooter and lock-down drills. The old saying prepare for the worst and hope for the best is important to remember. When you really think about it the need for active shooter/lockdown drills far outweighs the the negatives it creates. We also have a wonderful guidance and social work support team in the schools that is ready and able to debrief students and help them with their anxiety and depression before and after these drills.

    It is also important to remember that these drills are also for teachers and administrators who have been entrusted with the safety and protection of our children. As a teacher I have gone through many of these drills and it is important to note that we spend a lot of time with the students explaining and listening to the students concerns and thoughts, fears and anxiety, about the drills.

    While these active shooter-lockdown drills are scary for students can you imagine how scary an actual active shooting would be for students, teachers, and administrators who were unprepared for such an awful event? Certainly times have changed from when the Fire Drill was the main drill and most embraced these as important because the benefits of having an Emergency Evacuation Plan (EAP) far outweighed not having one. This means we as educators and parents need to accept the reality that school shootings and lockdowns occur.
    In a perfect world school shootings would never happen, but we do not live in a perfect world. It would be criminal for our schools and city to play ostrich and pretend that this will never happen here in Watertown.

    I respectfully disagree with your letter and would urge you to think about my points. I believe that WPS and Watertown are doing the best to protect the safety of our amazing students, faculty, and staff by continuing with these important drills.

    *The database, one of the leading projects tracking gun violence on school grounds, counts any time a gun is fired or brandished with intent, or when a bullet hits school property, regardless of the number of victims, time, day or reason behind the incident. Facts I have used come from https://www.k12dive.com/news/2023-total-school-mass-shootings/703007/

    • Although 340 “school shootings” occurred in 2023, this includes events where no shooting actually occurred. Further, ALICE/lockdown training has no relevance to the vast majority of these incidents, which are interpersonal conflicts that turned violent. The only incidents that ALICE training is directed towards are active shooter/mass shooting events, of which there were actually only 4 in 2023 (the same article you cited actually admits this, if you read to the end). The risk of an active shooter event in school is significantly less than 0.01%. These events are obviously terrible, but scaring kids in order for them to be prepared for such an event is closer to a 9/11 drill than to a fire drill.

  3. 2 corrections in my post: I must have missed your attribution – Everytown for Gun Safety you led the graph with that and it is my bad I missed it. And the other correction is a definition I wrote, the FBI defines mass shooting as 4 people murdered but I wrote FBI defines active shooter as 4 people murdered)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *