OK, let’s summarize where we are five months out from the Newtown shootings. If a student so much as mentions the word gun in school or (God forbid!) bites a toaster pastry into a shape that to some resembles a gun, he is suspended if not expelled. But if a school wants to run a mock “active shooter” drill in which a camo-clad adult bursts into a classroom with an assault weapon and opens fire, no problem.
The Daily News reports that realistic surprise attacks are being carried out in elementary schools around the country. The staging of such tests, called “code red” drills, is nothing new, though the number has been stepped up since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre left 20 first-graders and six school staffers dead.
What impact are these drills having on impressionable children who are certain to turn violent after being shot with a gun that fires bubbles?
Last year, an El Paso, Tex., school set up a shocking surprise lockdown simulation that enraged parents like Stephanie Belcher, whose son sent her a panicked text message.
‘He said, “I’m not kidding. There’s gunshots and people screaming and we were locked in a storage closet,”’ Belcher told KFOX-TV. ‘These kids thought that their classmates were being killed and that they could be next. There’s no excuse for that.’
So you’d think. But the district’s assistant superintendent, Pat O’Neill, defended the practice, telling reporters, “It’s an active shooter drill. We do this every now and then. If you warn too many people, then the simulation is not effective.”
New York City, home to 1.1 million students, has also been experimenting with surprise drills — with similarly disturbing results:
An unannounced practice lockdown at East Harlem’s Public School 79 — for special needs kids — was so realistic that a teacher called the cops.
‘It was probably the worst feeling I ever had in my life,’ a teacher told The New York Times in December.
In response, city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott decided to increase the frequency and ubiquity of the drills, requiring schools to conduct at least two per year, with a mandatory two-hour summer training program for school leaders.
Interestingly, the new-found fascination with code red drills nationwide has spawned a cottage industry. A Texas firm, Response Options — whose tag line is “Prepared, Proactive, Protected” — uses 18 instructors with military and/or law enforcement backgrounds to train schools, municipalities, and even other law enforcement agencies on “active shooter and violent intruder events.”
‘It’s spreading very, very quickly,’ Marianne Alvarez, the organization’s director of training, said. ‘We are booked up for the next few months straight. We’re glad, because they’re making their schools safer.’
Sessions don’t come cheaply, either. A one-day training session runs $2,500.
And where do schools get the money to pay for sessions that will possibly traumatize your child for a lifetime? Take two guesses.
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