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Illinois Makes Schools Drill For ‘Active Shooters’ — Should Parents Be Allowed To Opt Out?

Carter Staley
NPR Illinois

Illinois lawmakers are considering whether parents should be allowed to keep their children from participating in active shooter drills at school.

Some parents and school personnel say the exercises have a negative effect on children. State Sen. Scott Bennett, a Democrat from Champaign, said he’s not against active shooter training, but he said it should be conducted with more sensitivity.

“Certain schools use outside vendors that come in to do the simulation,” Bennett said. “They’re using masked intruders, they’re firing blanks, and sometimes even rubber projectiles. Of course that’s going to be traumatic to a child who often can’t tell the difference between a simulation and a real event.”

Bennett said there are more effective ways to prepare students and administrators for drills, like practicing basic lock down procedures.

Credit Carter Staley / NPR Illinois
NPR Illinois
During active shooter safety drills, teachers are instructed to turn off lights, lock doors, and keep students quiet.

Since 2013 Illinois law has required schools to conduct active shooter drills, but it was left up to the school district on whether or not to involve students.

But in 2018, the state mandated that children participate in the exercises, which must be conducted within the first 90 days of the school year.

Under current law, only school administrators and support personnel have the power to spare students from actively participating in the drills.

The National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of School Resource Officers have asked educators to come up with new standards, so parents and students have fair warning before the drills are conducted.

Bennett said preventing school shootings should focus less on drills, and more more on identifying kids who are at risk for becoming violent.

“The majority of school shootings are (by) students, and often current students,” Bennett said. “We need social workers at the school to identify kids that are dealing with these issues so that we could get them the help they need before they take these drastic steps.”

He said more conversation needs to happen among lawmakers, the Illinois State Board of Education, and social workers in order to come up with a solution.

The legislation is Senate Bill 3222.

Copyright 2021 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS. To see more, visit NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS.

Olivia Mitchell is a graduate Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2020 legislative session.