Since the Parkland shooting in 2018 that claimed the lives of 17 people, being a teacher in Brevard means guiding kids as young as five through monthly emergency drills to prepare them for a potential school shooting.
“You tell them, ‘We’re going to go in this room and play the quiet game,’” Brevard teacher Laura McIntyre said. “It depends on the age of the students you’re working with.”
A special education teacher for Deaf and hard-of-hearing students, McIntyre works in public schools around the county. Some schools are better than others at running the drills, she said. She does her best to explain to kids why the drills need to be taken seriously. She has two children herself, a 4 year old and a 10 year old.
Safety plans in schools: Brevard Public Schools says district has shooting safety plans in place and ready
“I tell them that there are people who make bad decisions and we have to be prepared for it,” McIntyre said. “We have to practice the same way you would prepare for a performance.”
Like many others, McIntyre considers the drills an unfortunate necessity. She said children today are well aware of the realities of shootings — if she doesn’t tell her son herself of high-profile killings, he learns about them from his peers. There is no avoiding the reality.
The recent shooting in Uvalde, Texas, has reignited debates over the efficacy of active shooter drills, and how to balance preparing children with the potential harmful effects of such drills.
Florida requires schools to practice monthly emergency drills. Since shortly after the shooting in Parkland in 2018, BPS has held ten of these drills per year.
Brevard Federation of Teachers president Anthony Colucci said teachers are constantly worried about their safety and the safety of their students.
"I know for a fact that our teachers would be willing to die to protect their their students, and that is always always somewhere in the back of their mind as they're trying to teach students academics," Colucci said.
Colucci, who did not want to share too many details for security reasons, said the monthly drills were developed with the Brevard County Sheriff and entail students moving to the secure locations they would use in the case of an active shooter.
Teachers sometimes worry that the drills might not be age appropriate for students, but Colucci believes the drills are necessary to keep students safe.
"Back in my day, we were hiding under the desk, preparing for tornadoes, no school shooters, and that was scary enough," Colucci said. "I could only imagine what some of these kids are going through."
"I feel that Brevard public schools have done a really good job along with our local law enforcement agencies and the sheriff's deputies making sure that we are at the forefront of protecting our students and staff. We have a lot of great things in place already."
BPS Spokesman Russell Bruhn said the drills BPS holds don’t involve actors or realism.
“The goal of these is not to traumatize or scare children,” Bruhn said. “The goal is to make them feel confident about what they can do and follow directions to get to safety or to remain safe.”
Lockdown drills became the "industry standard" for preparing for a shooter in the wake of the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, said Ken Trump, president of consulting firm National School Safety and Security Services.
Federal data indicates most public school students have practiced a lockdown drill, which is used for any threat inside a school building.
The majority of states require at least one drill annually that may be used to prepare for an active-shooter situation, and states use a variety of names to describe these drills. Many make principals file a statement certifying drills were conducted and require school boards to meet periodically to review requirements.
Former police officer and current law enforcement expert Roy Bedard said it’s hard to say what style of drills are most effective because school shootings are statistically rare, meaning researchers have only a small pool of incidents to analyze.
“We think it's effective,” Bedard said. “I think we're doing best practice right now."
One increasingly popular model is "ALICE" Training, which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.
"If the active shooter is in the east wing cafeteria, and I am in the west wing gymnasium – why would I, under a single-option response protocol or code, lockdown or lockout when I could escape and leave the scene to get to the reunification point?" said JP Guilbault, CEO of Navigate360, an emergency management company that teaches the training.
Bedard said early drills focused on hiding children, but most current protocols involve teaching kids to fight back. That can have a deterrent effect on would-be shooters, he said.
“No one wanted children to have to take a aggressive position against an attacker,” Bedard said “We want to cuddle them and wrap them in protective material and hide them behind curtains and things like that, hoping they will never be discovered, but of course, they are. And so I think the standard has evolved to fighting back.”
While some fear the drills will traumatize children, Bedard said teaching children how to handle emergency situations is an unfortunate necessity.
“We saw the same thing during the Cold War when we were teaching about potential nuclear attacks,” Bedard said. “There are countries all over the world that’ve had to prepare children for insurrections by neighboring countries. It's not it's not unusual to prepare young people for survival.”
Bedard said it can be impossible to prevent knowledge about emergency drills from getting into the hands of people who wish to commit acts of violence.
“The same students that are going through drill preparation sometimes are the ones that show up with firearms, and they’re not only well versed, but well practiced in what the drills are,” Bedard said.
Trainings and drills "may make people feel better," said Michael Dorn, executive director of the nonprofit Safe Havens International, a school safety center, but many are "unreliable forms of homeland security theater."
Companies such as Navigate360, that charge schools for trainings, are part of what Trump calls a "cottage industry of security, hardware and product vendors." Gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety estimated the school safety business – which includes the "active-shooter drill industry" – is worth $2.7 billion.
Parents, and even administrators who bring trainers onto campus, often assume a "higher authority" has vetted the curriculum, but that's rarely the case, said Kristina Anderson Froling, who survived a shooting in 2007 at Virginia Tech and runs the Koshka Foundation for Safe Schools.
"There are some for-profit companies that have tried to market themselves heavily and have been successful in gaining access to schools," she said.
As more people speak out about the harms of active-shooter simulations, some states and districts are restricting the practice. In March, Washington state banned drills that include simulations or reenactments.
"There’s a place for drills, but they can’t be this kind of simulation of an actual shooting," said Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers. "Because that is really, really traumatizing."
Bruhn encouraged parents who are concerned about drills to speak with their school administration and to make sure they communicate with their children regularly about what happens at school — the district does not warn parents before drills.
“We don't announce ‘tomorrow's drill day,’” Bruhn said. “That kind of defeats some of the purpose. … (Discussing drills with kids) is part of that parent engagement of knowing what kids are feeling, and as a new school year starts, reminding them that they're going to practice a variety of things, including fire drills, emergency drills.”
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Brevard schools hold 10 emergency drills a year; results uncertain