Perlmutter and Murphy Secure $1 Million for Independent Study to Examine Mental Health Effects of Active Shooter Drills on K-12 Students

Once schools re-open, resulting research will help state leaders and school administrators maximize effectiveness of drills and minimize trauma to students and staff

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Washington, D.C.-, July 15, 2020 | comments

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Reps. Ed Perlmutter (CO-07) and Stephanie Murphy (FL-07) today announced the approval, by the powerful House Appropriations Committee, of $1 million for independent experts to publish a study on the potential mental health effects of active shooter drills in elementary and secondary schools—an effort that Perlmutter and Murphy spearheaded. Once schools re-open in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the report will give state leaders and school administrators information they can use to maximize the effectiveness of the drills, while minimizing the trauma to students—especially younger students and students with disabilities—and staff members.      

Under the Perlmutter-Murphy initiative, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine would use the congressional funding to examine the possible emotional and behavioral effects on students and staff of active shooter drills, lockdown drills, and other firearm violence prevention activities in K-12 schools. Their report would identify best practices that can be adopted to minimize these negative impacts. The Perlmutter-Murphy provision was approved by the House Appropriations Committee this week as part of the bill providing funding for the U.S Department of Education.      

“Colorado has had more than its fair share of active shooter and school shooting tragedies, leaving many students traumatized and frightened. We must ensure school safety drills don’t trigger these anxieties and instead give students the knowledge to respond appropriately to threatening situations and potentially help save lives,” said Perlmutter. “This research will help inform school administrators as they balance school preparedness with the mental health of students and staff.”

“As a mom with two young children, I’ve had to talk with them about the traumatic experience of an active shooter drill at their school and answer many heartbreaking questions, including why a drill was even needed in the first place,” said Murphy. “The Parkland shooting in Florida tragically reminded us of the importance of student and staff preparedness. As states put in place plans to ensure students can safely return to the classroom once this pandemic subsides, we must also give school administrators the tools they need to most effectively conduct active shooter drills. This expert study will help us protect students from the physical threat of school shootings without causing lasting psychological trauma in the process.”

There is substantial anecdotal evidence showing a connection between school safety drills and negative mental health effects on students and staff, but additional empirical research is required. Organizations like the National Association of School Psychologists and Everytown for Gun Safety, working with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, have done important work to develop best practices and make recommendations regarding school safety drills.

A majority of American teens say they are worried about the possibility of a shooting happening at their school, and the National Center for Education Statistics found that 95 percent of U.S. public schools conduct school safety drills annually.

In the Colorado General Assembly, the School Safety Committee’s final report included a recommendation to “study the use of lockdown drills, including their effectiveness and any harm they do to participating students” and to “identify school safety best practices.”

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