Heather Ainsworth / Colorado Public Radio
On the morning of her 16th birthday, in her AP music class, Megan Storm thought she was going to die.
The second-year high school student from Lake Brantley High School, in the suburbs of Orlando, Florida, said he heard an ad on the intercom stating that the school was stuck in a red code – It was an exercise, but Storm did not tell the students. She and her friends hid in the dark behind an instrument locker.
"It was really calm and we all got together," said Storm.
In the twenty years following the Columbine High School shooting in April 1999, a generation of American children learned not only to prepare for a fire, a tornado or an earthquake, but also to hide from a potential shooter. Some exercises are quiet, where the teachers lock the doors, turn off the lights and ask the children to hide in a corner. Others are hyper realistic, with plastic pellets and fake blood.
Locks, lights, out of sight
Few peer-reviewed academic research can answer a big question for school administrators: what types of school safety systems, including these exercises, actually work?
At Brantley High Lake, Megan and her comrades heard loud noises that sounded like gunshots and knocking. Other students were crying and texting to their family and friends.
"I would have liked to have my phone," she says. "I thought I was going to die."
And then, a second announcement: The lock was just an exercise. The loud noises turned out to be building teams nearby. Megan went back to school and returned home at the end of the day. She then "got off the bus and immediately broke down," said Megan's father, David Storm.
He and other parents strongly criticized school officials after the botched exercise of December 2018. In response, district officials announced that future exercises would be announced before the start of the work.
Help schools make informed choices
It is usually up to state or local governments to decide how, or if, to train their students. But they have few reliable data on which to base their decision.
"The research on security measures is in a very sad state," said Jeremy Finn, professor of education at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Just three hours away from Finn's office in western New York, a researcher is trying to change the game. Jaclyn Schildkraut, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at the State University of New York at Oswego, is helping the Syracuse City School District implement locking exercises and collect data on its effectiveness .
She decided to tackle the issue, in part, because of the lack of research on school safety in general. The relative scarcity of shootings in schools makes the job difficult, and Finn added that it was difficult to measure the effect of a safety program on a negative – a shootout that does not happen. has not occurred. Schildkraut also said that too many schools are turning to measures not yet proven but tangible, such as metal detectors and shielded backpacks.
"As a nation, we invest a lot of money in the problems and we do not know if it will work," she said. "But they make us feel better because we can see them."
Lockdowns, when they are well executed, can slow down an armed man
According to Schildkraut, if the lights go off and the doors are locked, the author will have fewer opportunities to kill students before the police arrive.
For example, since last fall, Schildkraut and a team of undergraduate assistants have conducted exercises in some thirty schools in Syracuse. They arrive unexpectedly at a school and ask the principal to read an announcement to inform students that a lockdown exercise is about to begin. Then the Schildkraut team rushes and checks all classes of the school.
"We are looking at the proportion of properly secured parts, the proportion of locked doors, the proportion of parts that are turned off, etc.," she said.
Schildkraut keeps the data for each classroom and then goes back to the same school several months later to check for improvements. She also interviewed more than 10,000 students in Syracuse about their safety at school, before and after the exercises.
She hopes to present some of her findings at the upcoming conference of the American Society of Criminology. Finally, she will submit it to peer-reviewed journals. It would then be accessible to any school district in the country that is trying to make the tough decision to keep their students safe.
Schildkraut includes parents who worry about lockdown exercises and who say they are clear examples of their loss of control. But she said that they are as necessary now as fire drills or nuclear bomb exercises to sail and cover 50 years ago.
"You have to give children tools to stay safe," she said.
His own motives are deeply personal. Schildkraut grew up near Parkland, Florida, and his brother went to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which had a deadly shootout last year. The Virginia Tech Massacre in 2007 prompted him to return to school and pursue criminology. She recently published a book on Columbine's legacy.
"Although I am only one person, I really believe that I can make a difference," she said. "And if it takes a hard love, or it takes teaching moments, or it takes administrators, or anything to do, as they have to understand the seriousness of that." That does not mean "no more ", one more." And maybe that does not mean not one more for everyone, but it does it for me. "
Jahira Edwards, a sophomore at the Syracuse Central Institute of Technology, participated in a handful of Schildkraut exercises. For one of them, she said that she was momentarily confused as to whether it was just an exercise. Then she understood him.
"I knew it was an exercise because someone knocked on the door and everyone was scared." I said to myself, "No, he really wanted us shoot it, it would come in and not knock that at the door. " So, I thought, "It's an exercise," she said.
Edwards is the type of prepared student that Schildkraut wants. All the exercises had another impact on Edwards: they made him aware of his vulnerability at school.
"I'm trying not to think 'Oh, that could not happen at my school,'" she says. "But I know it could."