Given the prevalence of school shootings over the last decade, let alone the last six months, several area schools are conducting elevated lockdown drills that involve a mock shooter and a legitimate emergency response team. Clarence High School had this type of drill April 17.
Concerns regarding the realism of the event surfaced among parents prior to the drill, and that, coupled with ill students and those who chose not to attend school that particular day – significantly decreased the day’s attendance, and, as some would argue, its effectiveness.
Principal Kenneth Smith said that the authenticity of the drill was meant to “be a learning experience that gives us a chance to coordinate our response with emergency responders, an opportunity that we don’t have that often.”
Still, Smith understands the uneasiness within the community: “My guess is that there are parents and/or students that might have some stress and anxiety with respect to going through a real-life situation, and the district [came] in contact with Erie County Mental Health [Department] who [offered] two mental health providers on campus that day in addition to our six counselors.” However reassuring, that fact did not increase attendance the day of the drill.
After the students convened in the gym for a short briefing by Smith, they proceeded to class until the drill officially began.
The mock shooter announced his presence via whistle. The “gunman” then wandered the halls, taking victims (students who had volunteered prior to the drill) and jiggling the occasional door handle.
Senior Kristina Back said, “My class didn’t even know it was happening. We had chips and food, and forgot about the drill for the most part.”
After a 40-minute class period spent away from any doors and windows, the PA system rang with the announcement that the drill was over. What had been advertised as a very real experience ended up fueling substantial discussion within the learning community in regard to the drill’s legitimacy.
A few students and faculty members expressed their opinions about the drill.
Did the drill live up to the hype?
Garrett Silver (senior): “No. We couldn’t hear anything going on.”
Danny Richer (junior): “I [wasn’t] worried about it, no. It was all controlled.”
Matthew Andrews (AP Psychology/Regents Government teacher): “It seemed reasonably uneventful for an event that was built up so much. In the end, it was just kind of there.”
Kim Carlson (senior): “With only about a third of the kids there, it would be difficult to gauge what would have actually happened. We know how the procedures work with 10 kids in a classroom, but what happens when we take those same procedures and try to incorporate 30 kids?”
Should attendance have been mandatory for students?
Jack Welsh (sophomore): “No. This will do nothing for the students. The district should’ve done this on a superintendent’s day.”
Cailey Martin (senior): “Yes, because we’re not going to have a choice whether or not to come in if a shooting actually happens.”
Sydney Daost-Filliatrault (senior): “It seemed relatively useless for the students to come in today.”
Tom Jones (senior): “I personally chose to stay home during the drill because I knew my attendance wasn’t vital, and that in that actual scenario, my only job would be to follow directions.”
Should the duration of the drill have been longer/shorter?
Haley Filippone (junior): “It should have been longer without a doubt, it would’ve been more realistic.”
Matthew Andrews: “One of two options would have been better, in my opinion: either a longer drill as originally planned, or a series of shorter drills in which case we would see something similar to the fire drill effect. [Students] have become so desensitized to fire drills that they lack the sort of tension this drill had, and [their] reaction and evacuation is essentially second nature by now.”
Katie Milone (senior): “It definitely should have been longer. A real shooter wouldn’t be in and out in one period.”
Kristen Cipresso (senior): “Longer for sure. This was so short, it just seemed like a waste.”
Would the drill have been more effective if the students didn’t know about it in advance?
Katie Milone: “I don’t think that would be safe. Everyone would freak out and think something was actually happening, which would be more chaotic than useful.”
Erin Welsh (junior): “Yes, as telling us it’s a drill takes away from the effectiveness of the drill.”
Kristina Back: “I personally think that the drill should’ve been more surprising because it would’ve had more of an effect on the students.”
Matthew Andrews: “An unannounced drill or a drill during passing time or lunch period runs the risk of peripheral injury, which is something everyone wants to avoid in a drill scenario.”
Danny Richer: “Yes and no; this is sort of becoming our generation’s duck and cover.”
Should an evacuation procedure have been practiced?
Claire Badhorn (senior): “I would’ve rather practiced an evacuation drill than the holding procedure.”
Kim Carlson: “Emphatic yes. The district should really look into investing in escape ladders for the second-story classrooms.”
Matthew Andrews: “I think individual classroom evacuation would have been beneficial considering everyone recognizes the pictures of the first responders leading the Newtown kids out of the school with their hands on each other’s shoulders but has no working knowledge on how to safely mimic that sort of procedure. It would have helped first responders understand the intricacies of the building and been beneficial for the students along with keeping them more engaged in the drill.”
Kristina Back: “No, because in a real-life version of this, I’d rather stay inside. There would be no way to know where the gunman would be, and leaving would be too risky.”
Katie Milone: “The school should at least look into getting fire ladders for the higher floors.”
Was the drill, as a whole, successful?
Stephen Mazurchuk (senior): “Eh … this discussion helped more than the actual drill.”
Danny Richer: “I’m not sure, but it seems impossible to anticipate how it actually would’ve went down; there are too many variables.”
Matthew Andrews: “The attendance was damaged to the point that the drill was rendered reasonably ineffective for students and staff. The concerns expressed adjusted something that would have been better in its original form. As a teacher, it comes down to what we actually did today and if it was worth a lost instructional day, and it didn’t really seem like it was, in this case, that is. I believe it was very beneficial for the first responders and those directly involved with the drill, though.”
Katie Milone: “Today’s wasn’t, but a longer one might’ve been.”
Danielle Grimm is a senior at Clarence High School.