‘I Felt More Traumatized Than Trained’: Education Week
It just seems like it would be easier and more humane to prevent school shootings by taking away access to the weapons, rather than expect teachers to instantly become John McClane or Rambo or Atomic Blonde.
By Evie Blad and Madeline Will
March 24, 2019
As schools ramp up active-shooter drills, some training tactics—especially those meant to simulate real-life scenarios—are doing more harm than good, educators and safety experts say.
Stories have sprung up around the country of law enforcement officers firing blanks in hallways to demonstrate the sound of gunfire, pelting teachers with projectiles, and showing video footage from actual shootings as part of their staff training exercises. In a recent drill in Indiana, teachers were shot execution-style with plastic pellets, leaving some with welts and bruises.
These experiences, educators say, can be physically and emotionally painful and don’t necessarily prepare anyone for an actual school shooting, which happens rarely.
“I felt more traumatized than trained,” said Elizabeth Yanelli, a teacher in Cranberry Township, Penn., who went through an active-shooter drill a few years ago in which teachers were shot with airsoft guns so they could practice stopping a shooter in the cafeteria. “We had colleagues shooting colleagues, we had people getting hit with [plastic] pellets. … People were screaming, trying to run. People were tripping over each other. It was just horrendous.”
School security consultants and psychologists say wide variability in active-shooter training, overzealous methods, and techniques that encourage fighting back can lead to injuries—both physical and psychological—for educators, and increased liability for schools and law enforcement. Those tactics, some meant to give participants a “scared straight” experience, aren’t necessary, they say.
“We don’t light fires in the hallway to practice fire drills, and we seem to teach that protocol pretty well,” said Melissa Reeves, the past president of the National Association of School Psychologists. “We can prepare for an active-shooter situation without the need for these super intense and potentially traumatizing drills.”
At the training in Indiana in January, in which teachers were told to kneel down and face a classroom wall before being shot multiple times with plastic pellets, terrified teachers were screaming, a representative from the Indiana State Teachers Association testified to state lawmakers last week. The story, which spread rapidly online, put educators’ concerns about the nature of school safety training under a massive spotlight.