While active shooter classes are ongoing at DeWitt High School, the idea of a full-scale active shooter drill has been met with mixed reviews from parents, law enforcement and school officials.
According to DeWitt Township Chief of Police Brian Russell, law enforcement and the school have been having ongoing conversations about school safety, but the idea of an active shooter drill has yet to come up.
“I think they should train for the real world,” said Russell. “You learn things by repetition, I think it would be a good thing for them, but if something really happened, I think they’d at least be more prepared for it. I just think it’s a good thing for life, period, it’s good training. I like the idea.”
The preparation classes currently going on at the school are only focused on per class basis, not the whole school at once.
“I don’t know that I would favor putting the entire school through that sort of a scenario,” said DeWitt Public Schools Superintendent John Deiter. “I don’t know that I’d want to do an entire school-wide drill, where you catch everybody off-guard and make them think it’s the real deal, I don’t know that we’d get a benefit out of that.”
These types of drills have been performed recently after the Parkland shooting, including one in Anchorage, Alaska, where students were exposed to real gunfire.
Russell said if it were up to him to design the drill, it would be thoroughly planned beforehand, include the entire school and have strong communication between teachers, students and law enforcement. The more people involved, the better, he said, and it wouldn’t run “real long,” at most an hour.
“What we’d probably do first is a tabletop exercise, with the principal, some of the police, fire, and EMS people.” said DeWitt Fire Chief David DeKorte. “See how it goes, and then expand it to actually going to school doing it.”
“I always think it’s good to be prepared,” said Tim Russell, who’s a parent of a DeWitt High School freshman. “I would be all for [an active shooter drill].”
Not all parents would support it.
“I would not want my kids to go through the training,” John Coscarelli, who had two children graduate from DeWitt High School. “Just because you don’t know how they are going to react.”
“I think the best use of resources is on prevention, and I think that’s where the focus needs to be,” said Deiter. “I’d like to see more funding go towards resource officers, school counselors, and also infrastructure.”
One of the main concerns brought up was whether the students would be mentally strong enough to go through an active shooter drill.
“You definitely run the risk of scaring kids, some kids may not be able to handle that, said Coscarelli. “I don’t know if you want to get the kids involved.”
“I think the downside is ‘what is the toll of a drill,’ if you were to simulate an actual active shooter, I think there could be some trauma related to that as well,” said Deiter. “For the sake of a drill, I think there are other ways you can practice those routines without having a traumatic side effect.”
Some make the argument that, even though the situation may be troubling mentally, the real situation won’t be different, so it’s best to prepare students ahead of time.
“Nobody should have to deal with anything like this, unfortunately it’s the world we are in,” said Tim Russell. “If there are things that can be done to help diminish the loss of life and injury, then they should do it.”
“If somebody’s just getting the anxiety over what we’re talking about in the classroom, and then actually going through this whole drill, I can see a couple of them having some issues,” said DeKorte, who has been conducting active shooter preparedness classes at DeWitt. “I guess that would be the biggest problem, but we’d have to work through that, for their safety.”
“I don’t really see any negatives to it,” said Chief Russell. “If something went wrong, and the drill failed, you’re still learning from it. People learn from failure too.”
The other area of concern is over the strategy behind conducting a drill like this for many people to see; how many tactics do law enforcement reveal so the school is prepared, but not too many to where they may be tipping their hand for a potential shooter to exploit.
“One of the worst things about police training, when it starts to intertwine with the general public, is the bad guys learn the tactics of the police,” said Brian Bartlett, a retired DeWitt police officer and parent of a DeWitt High School student.
“Say you do have a high school student that’s on the edge right now and maybe contemplating doing something, and then the police come in and want to teach how to respond, and they see how the police are going to respond to an active shooter, that can be pretty dangerous. You start giving up your tactics, you lose your edge,” said Bartlett.
“There’s some concern for that, and they think they know what the cops are going to do,” said Chief Russell. “I wouldn’t tell everybody everything that I know would be done, just because I know that there are some things I would never say to anybody. But, we’re going in that school one way or another.”
“You can’t put your plan in stone, but you also got to let the majority of the people know what’s going on,” said DeKorte. “Could you tip your hand? Sure you can, but then you may have to adapt. You tip your hand a little bit, but I think you have to.”
Another concern is how much should the students be exposed to these experiences, or if it should be centered more around teachers and administrators.
“I think the teachers and police need to take the lead in any situation like that,” said Coscarelli. “As long as they are well prepared and know what they’re doing, the kids will follow.”
“Once we get [the students and teachers] trained, we’re going to have to sit down and see if [the drill] something that’s doable or not,” said DeKorte.