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Do Active Shooter Drills Work?

This is the Education Briefing, a weekly update on the most important news in U.S. education. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

Today, three questions: Do active shooter drills work? What are pediatricians worrying about most right now? And how do teenage girls adjust to their changing bodies?

As a gunman began firing at Oxford High School in Michigan, students and educators remembered the chilling training they received from their school’s regular active shooter drills.

They barricaded doors with desks and chairs. They covered windows and then huddled silently in corners or bathroom stalls. Some armed themselves with makeshift weapons like scissors and calculators. When a pathway looked clear, they ran.

Some students, like Joyeux Times, 16, praised the drills.

“I think the training is helpful,” she said. “It saved a lot of students’ lives.”

Yet four students died.

My colleague Dana Goldstein looked into this training and the questions about it. Students at more than 95 percent of American schools practiced such drills before the pandemic. Most states require safety drills. And the school safety industry is a big business.

Jaclyn Schildkraut, a professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York at Oswego, studies school lockdown drills.

The drills were necessary, she said, because adolescents felt “more prepared and more empowered. It is better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”

But the drills may harm the mental health of students, while doing little to prevent mass shootings.

“There hasn’t been a strong body of evidence that these drills are helping,” Megan Carolan, vice president of research at the Institute for Child Success, said.

In fact, some critics say, the focus on “hardening” schools could detract from strategies that could actually prevent shootings from taking place. Those measures could include stricter gun laws, better threat assessment and more mental health counseling in schools to help students cope with strong emotions.

“The response was executed perfectly, yet four children were killed and multiple injuries occurred,” said Karen McDonald, the Michigan prosecutor whose office is overseeing the criminal case. “We really can’t train ourselves out of this tragedy.”

Here are other updates on the recent school shooting in Michigan:

  • A 15-year-old sophomore has been charged with one count of terrorism causing death and four counts of first-degree murder, which could lead to a life sentence if he is convicted. McDonald, the prosecutor, said the attack was “absolutely premeditated.”

  • Prosectors charged his parents with involuntary manslaughter. The parents bought the semiautomatic handgun that the son used to carry out the deadly rampage as a Christmas gift, prosecutors say. The police arrested the parents after an intense manhunt.

  • Administrators at Oxford High may face legal repercussions, too. The school’s actions are under a microscope, prompting questions about the school’s responsibility in the tragedy. (Administrators let the sophomore back into a classroom, the prosecutor said, despite concerns about his behavior.)

In the weeks since 5- to 11-year-olds became eligible for Covid-19 vaccines, many eager parents took their children to receive a shot. But much of the upfront demand has already been met.

Doctors are now struggling to reach hesitant and undecided parents, even as they try to treat health problems that have gone unchecked during the pandemic.

At the Charlotte Community Health Clinic, which serves low-income children in North Carolina, Dr. Anne Steptoe tries to approach vaccine fears with patience and understanding.

Her patients — who often have chronic medical conditions or live in crowded housing arrangements with vulnerable family members — are among the children most in need of the shot.

Yet most parents who have brought their children to the clinic over the past month have declined it. Often, parents are more focused on getting treatment for mental and physical problems that had gone unchecked for much of the pandemic.

Those can be overwhelming.

In the days immediately after the vaccines became available, Dr. Steptoe spoke to patients with a wide range of health challenges. One girl was sleepless and suicidal. Another was anemic. Several young boys had gained weight during the pandemic. And a 10-year-old had been experiencing asthma attacks and was using her inhalers incorrectly.

Throughout it all, Dr. Steptoe answers questions about the vaccine, sometimes speaking to families two or three times before they feel ready to vaccinate their children.

“It’s building a plane in flight,” Carolyn Allison, the clinic’s chief executive, said of its efforts to get children vaccinated. “It may not be anti-vaccine, but ‘What is practical in my universe?’”

Details: Only five million of the 28 million children in the 5-to-11 age group — roughly 18 percent — have received at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.


  • A Black superintendent in Washington State, speaking during a mixed in-person and virtual board meeting, was interrupted by a looped recording of racial slurs.

  • The Republican Party of Texas is focusing on local school board elections and other nonpartisan local races.

  • The school board association in Georgia is the latest to split with the National School Boards Association, partly over a letter the national board had sent to the Biden administration seeking federal intervention aimed at keeping board members and other school officials safe.

  • The documentary “Try Harder!” follows five overachieving students at a selective San Francisco public high school as they compete to get into top colleges.

  • Six teachers from Babylon High School, on Long Island, have been placed on leave as a sexual misconduct investigation continues and alumnae come forward with claims


  • Police said they killed a student at Florida Institute of Technology who lunged at them with an “edged weapon.”

  • U.S. military academies are rife with racism, The Associated Press reports.

In “Just Girls,” a Times Op-Doc, girls ages 14 to 17 talked candidly about their changing bodies.

On puberty: “I wanted be a child, and I wanted to still have fun. But at the same time, I wanted to get older, and I wanted to get bigger.”

On social anxiety: “The whole thing going on in my mind is, like: ‘What are other people thinking? Are they laughing at me in their heads? Do they think I look weird? Do they think I look fat?”

On catcalling: “I got mistaken for an older woman. I’m pretty sure I was hit on by a 25-year-old male. It’s crazy because at the time, I was 14.”

And that’s just in the first four minutes of the 13-minute-long documentary, directed by Bronwen Parker-Rhodes.

For me, the documentary was a helpful reminder — amid all the partisan fights about school policy and parents’ fears about the pandemic — that it’s just plain weird to be a teenager. Here’s the link to “Just Girls,” which is well worth your time.

That’s it for the briefing. See you next week!

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