Students’ surprising reaction to schools preparing for a mass shooting

ALBANY, N.Y. — Baby boomers learned to “duck and cover” during the Cold War in case of a nuclear attack, but in 2024, the new threat to students seems much more real — gun violence. As mass shootings in the United States continue to plague the country, educators must make tough decisions regarding how to best keep everyone safe. While prior studies have claimed that mass shooting drills tend to traumatize kids, a new report disputes this, finding that lockdown drills actually help students feel safer.

These findings come from an assessment of thousands of U.S. students. Dr. Jaclyn Schildkraut, Executive Director of the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium at the Rockefeller Institute of Government, explains that feeling safe at school is essential for all students to learn and thrive academically.

Mass shooting lockdown drills have become common practice at countless U.S. schools. The drills usually involve locking classroom doors, turning off the lights, staying out of sight, and remaining quiet. Such measures first appeared following the Columbine High School massacre of 1999, a tragedy that saw two teens shoot and kill 12 of their classmates and a teacher and wound 24 others.

Dr. Schildkraut, the study’s lead author, collaborated with colleagues from the University of Buffalo, University of Albany, and Syracuse University to analyze how these lockdown drills affect the perception of school safety among children who have already experienced violence. While most students thankfully haven’t experienced a mass shooting, nationwide research indicates nearly half of all American school-aged children have dealt with either bullying or violence at school over the prior year.

“It is important for students to perceive their schools to be safe because it can impact how they function as students generally,” says Dr. Schildkraut, a national expert on mass shootings research, in a media release. “For instance, not feeling safe at school can lead to anxiety, depression, lowered academic performance and missing school.”

“In addition, not feeling safe at school can lead students to have increased perceptions of risk –thinking they are more likely to be harmed at school than they actually are – or be adversely impacted by practices designed to keep them safe, like lockdown drills.”

Teen holding gun
While prior studies have claimed that mass shooting drills tend to traumatize kids, a new report disputes this, finding that lockdown drills actually help students feel safer. (© M-Production –

To conduct this research, students in the 5th grade and above attending a large urban school district in New York State filled out a survey asking about how safe they felt at school and how prepared they felt for lockdowns and other emergencies. The students also answered questions regarding personal experiences with violence. More specifically, respondents answered if they had: seen or heard of someone bringing a gun to school; seen someone bring a knife to school; been involved in or seen one or more physical fights; been bullied or seen someone else being bullied.

After that, students actually participated in a lockdown drill, then filled out the survey again. Months later, the schoolchildren received training on how to respond to emergencies before taking part in a second lockdown drill and completing the survey for a third time.

Students (averaging 14 years of age) completed a total of 8,627 surveys, with both boys and younger students tending to feel safer than girls and older students. On average, respondents reported exposure to nearly two different types of violence – the most common forms of violence being witnessing fights and witnessing bullying.

💡What Did The Survey Find?

Students exposed to violence reported feeling less safe at school in comparison to others, and the more types of violence experienced, the less safe they felt. However, participating in lockdown drills appeared to at least partially ease the harmful effects of exposure to violence.

“Participating in drills may be a way to help students who have been exposed to violence feel safer in schools,” Dr. Schildkraut adds. “This finding provides policymakers with direct empirical evidence against calls for lockdown and other safety drills to be abandoned on the basis that they traumatize children without making them feel safer.”

Students exposed to violence reported feeling less prepared for emergencies than others, but the respondents as a whole felt more prepared for emergencies after participating in the second drill compared to the beginning of the study.

“The main purpose of emergency preparedness drills, including lockdowns, is for individuals to build muscle memory, which enables them to respond correctly in stressful situations without conscious effort,” Dr. Schildkraut comments. “And so, it is possible that the confidence gained from taking part lockdown drills may help to offset the negative effects of exposure to violence over time.”

The research team says further work should take place in order to determine if these findings apply to students in more rural areas where violence levels may be lower. Moreover, further studies need to confirm if these findings apply to lockdown drills other than the one used for this project. Additional limitations include an inability to prove causation and a lack of tracking individual students’ responses over time.

“When lockdown drills are conducted correctly they can offer unintended benefits, such as offsetting harmful effects of exposure to violence, in addition to helping to prepare students for emergencies,” study authors assert.

Researchers also stress policymakers need to do more to address violence in schools.

“All students deserve a safe, supportive and healthy learning environment in which they can thrive as students and as individuals,” Dr. Schildkraut concludes.

The study is published in the Journal of School Violence.

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About the Author

John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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