"We don't give them a script but we talk
about the best ways to communicate depending on the age of the students," he says.
Mountain or Molehill?
Proponents of lockdown drills have two words
for those who fear they will traumatize children: fire drill.
"Parents get all excited about this
issue. They're making a mountain out of a mole hill," says Ken Trump, president and CEO of National School Safety and Security
Services in Cleveland, who has provided security services to schools in 30 states, including Illinois. "It's nothing more than a reverse fire dill. The
goal is to practice safety; the only difference is that the kids stay in the building."
Trump rejects claims that lockdown drills
frighten children. "Kids are not bothered a bit," he says. "Kids don't go home crying at night after a fire drill because
they're afraid the school will burn down. I've never seen it in my 20 years in this business."
Superintendent Catalani agrees. Students
and parents are accustomed to fire and tornado drills and accept them unquestioningly, he says, even though they are at least
as disruptive as lockdown drills. "We do fire drills nine times a year. We do a tornado drill where the students have to leave
the classroom and duck and cover," he says. "That's more disruptive and anxiety-producing."
Catalani doesn't dismiss the concerns of
parents. "We try to be as sensitive as possible," he says. "We ask for their input and participation. But, he adds, "We get
more phone calls from parents worried about security than calls from parents who say we are overreacting. We are being proactive
about safety. If we err, we want to err on the side of caution."
Commander Terry Mee of the Wheaton Police
Department says District 200 is taking proper precautions. His department has floor plans of all the school buildings. Each
building also has walkie-talkies that connect to the police and fire departments and the central school office. "You do need
to have policies and procedures in place," Mee says. "Like anything else, you need to practice them to ensure they are viable."
Of course, in an actual crisis, lockdowns
may not go as smoothly as drills, but the same can be true of fire and tornado drills. "Every situation presents itself differently,"
Mee says. "You may have to do some ad-libbing along the way."
Some parents, administrators and school
safety experts agree that there can be a need for lockdowns with well-planned procedures, but question the value of lockdown
drills that include children.
"My opinion is that it's not necessary to
involve the kids," says Hughes. "Spend time telling the teachers what to do. To have the kids involved doesn't make sense
because the likelihood of something happening is so small."
HoganBruen agrees. "In my opinion, the lockdown
drills are not worth the risk to kids," she says. "An intruder could enter the school. That's part of reality. You need to
take preventative measures and have programs in place. But you don't need to have the kids involved. On a day off from school,
the teachers can do role playing and take the place of the kids."
This may be a time when schools in safe
suburban areas could learn something from schools in more violent neighborhoods. Principals in the Chicago Public Schools
have long been given detailed instructions on how to respond to various safety emergencies. A principal at one grade school
in a high-crime area on the city's north side recalls a one time last year when his school went on lockdown after staff heard
gunshots outside the school.
Over the intercom, he announced, "We have
a situation." Teachers knew what to do. They moved their students away from the windows to prevent injuries from shattered
glass. Teachers and students acted quickly and without panic to ensure their safety, though it turned out that no windows
were shot out.
The principal, who requested anonymity,
says he reminds his staff twice a year about lockdown procedures but does not practice them with students. "I think it's more
important that teachers and staff know what to do," he says.
Jacobs High School does not
practice lockdowns either. "I absolutely believe in having a conversation with staff on how to do them. During a crisis, you
don't have time to give individual instructions," says Jacobs principal Linda Robinson. "But I don't think you necessarily
need to involve the kids because of a concern they may be
The lockdown Jacobs in response to the student
with a pellet gun bore out her conviction. A code word was used over the intercom to instruct teachers to lock their classrooms.
(District 200 doesn't use code words because substitute teachers might not understand what to do.) Students outside classrooms
were found and told to return to their classes. Even though students quickly realized that a lockdown was in effect, most
were unaware of the reason for it and the entire process went very smoothly.
No one in the school panicked. Some parents,
however, heard there was a problem at the school and were frightened when they were unable to retrieve their children.
It's no surprise the word immediately got
out. "It doesn't take much for a child to use a cell phone and before you know it the parents are rushing to the school,"
Too Little, Too Late
The other objection to an emphasis on lockdowns
is that they and other disaster prevention efforts tend to be implemented without attention to preventing violence in the
"The intention is good, but there is an
innate problem," says Ed Dunkelblau, Ph.D., director of the Hoffman Estates-based Institute for Emotionally Intelligent Learning.
"If the goal is to ensure safety and attempt to remove the weapon from a student, then the battle is already lost."
Dunkelblau believes that school violence
can only be reduced only if children are taught social and emotional skills along with the traditional academic ones. "A school
needs to establish a real community," he says. "It should be a community that respects diversity, teaches kids how to recognize
their emotions and impulses and emotions and impulses in others, and teaches them how to develop supportive relationships."
HoganBruen, too, considers lockdowns "a
knee-jerk reaction to Columbine"
"We need to reduce bullying," she says.
"There are a lot better ways to spend our resources and energy than on lockdowns."
But Trump isn't convinced. "A school needs
both," he says. "You can have all the preventive programs in place in the world, but if the kids don't feel safe and don't
have security, they are worthless."
Besides, he argues, lockdowns protect against
more than an aggrieved student. "It could be police chasing a suspect. It could be a custody problem that spills over into
school. It's not necessarily a student with a gun," he says.
But Dunkelblau isn't seeing the same emphasis
put into anti-bullying curricula as is now being placed on lockdown drills and other security measures.
"Everyone recognizes the importance of fire
drills. You do them quietly and walk two by two. I don't think anyone would argue against fire prevention, either," he says.
"But people hesitate to build violence prevention into their curriculum."
But Trump remains unconvinced. "Too often,
administrators fail to recognize that their 9 a.m. violence prevention class and their 10 a.m. peer mediation program are
likely to have minimal success if an 8 a.m. shooting occurred that could have been prevented by better security measures,"
Julie Eakins grew up on the South Side.
"I remember feeling safe. I could ride my bike to where I wanted. My parents made me feel like the world was safe. I want
my kids to have that."
It's too late, counters Trump. "People complain,
'We didn't have these [lockdowns] when I was kid.' This is not 1960, 1970 or even 1980. When we reach Utopia, then we can
do without security. Some people want to go back in time."
Trump is frustrated by the double-standard
he perceives among some parents. "People don't protest surveillance cameras and armed guards at banks," he says. "When you
go to a drive-through for a fast-food restaurant, a surveillance camera stares you in the face. We protect hamburgers better
than we do kids and then we apologize about it."
Finally, it may
boil down to what we find more threatening: the possibility of a violent incident at school, or our loss of innocence. Feinberg
aligns himself with the first concern. "We live in a world where prevention and
procedures are a part of life and learning,"
he says. "The skills taught in a lockdown are an important part of education. It adds to children's repertoire of skills and
social knowledge. It teaches them not that the world is menacing but that it's place where you have to be prepared."
Eakins sides with the latter. "I don't want
to let them grow up scared," she says. "We want them to have a feeling of security before the world washes over them like
a tidal wave."
Either way, the world is a changed place
post-Columbine and post-September 11. The question is only how to make sure children not only are safe, but feel safe, too.
How Violent Are Our Schools?
Perception and reality often are at odds
when it comes to violence at schools. Consider a Life magazine story that claimed that American students "terrorize teachers"
and that "it often takes physical courage to teach." The year was 1958.
The widely publicized school shootings
seem to indicate that violence at schools has accelerated in recent years. In fact, violence is declining. Victimization rates
declined from 48 crimes per 1,000 students ages 12 through 18 in 1992 to 33 per 1,000 students in 1999, according to a report
by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics.
A study by the National School Safety Center in Westlake Village, California, also shows a decline in school-related violence. The number of violent deaths at schools or at school-related events
decreased from 56 in 1992-93 to 23 in 2000-2001. The statistics, based on media stories, include deaths from suicide and accidents.
Children are far safer at school than elsewhere.
Only a few of the more than 2,000 children killed each year are killed at school. And for every teen killed by a gun in school,
more than 300 are killed by a gun outside school.
But not everyone finds these figures
comforting. "It's true that schools are often safer than other places," says Ken Trump, president and CEO of National School
Safety and Security Services in Cleveland. "But safer than what? What is an acceptable level of school violence?"
Jay Copp is the
father of three children, ages 6, 4 and 2, a freelance writer in La Grange Park, and manager of communications for Lions Clubs
International Foundation in Oak Brook.