No parent wants to think of their child being in the presence of an active shooter. No teacher wants the heavy responsibility of keeping children safe during an active shooter event. The reality of our world does not allow parents or teachers to make this choice. In 2017, there were 24 school shootings that resulted in 35 deaths and 79 injuries. The physical and mental toll this takes on our children will be determined in the years to come.
How can we plan for students who do not have the ability to sense danger, who do not intuitively know when to be quiet because of a dangerous situation, who cannot follow rapid instructions? There are ways to teach safety skills if, God forbid, they are put into an active shooter situation. These skills will not be acquired simply by participating in active shooter drills. The following are tips to prepare for this type of situation.
- Use words the student will understand. If “danger” has been taught as a safety word, use “dangerous person” instead of “active shooter” or “gunman”.
- Determine where your class’s safe spot will be within the classroom. Mark it off with painter’s tape or some type of visual on the floor.
- Practice spending quiet time in this area. Use it for weighted blanket and bubbles time or iPad with headphones. Only do quiet, preferred tasks in this area. Make sure all needed materials are nearby.
- Practice moving to the area quickly. Use a social narrative or visual to give students a cue to move quickly to the predetermined spot. Practice moving to the area multiple times throughout the year (not only during active shooter drills).
- Practice different interventions to help students remain quiet – especially those who are typically noisy. Lollipops, gum or soda may give input and deter noise. Objects that are made to chew on should be part of the materials in this area. During each practice session, try different tools to determine what works best.
- Keep headphones nearby for students who are bothered by loud noises.
- Ensure staff members know how to safely move students from wheelchairs to the floor, if necessary.
- Make a plan for students who have mobility issues, if at any point everyone is directed to run.
- Clarify how staff members will communicate with students who have hearing and visual impairments.
- Practice moving from other areas of the building to a safe spot. If students are eating lunch in the cafeteria or using the bathroom, they must receive explicit instruction in what to do during a dangerous situation. Teach the student to carry a small bag of calming items in every area of the building. Ask paraprofessionals to keep a social story or visual that cues students to move to a specified location.
- Talk with parents about active shooter drills. Gain input on ideas of ways to keep their child safe in a dangerous situation. Alert parents when there has been a drill and update them on their child’s performance.