Rep. Boylan introduces bill to study
school lockdowns, safety drills
STATE HOUSE – When 14 police departments across Rhode Island received reports of a school shooting this past March, students and teachers in those communities went into lockdown. Law enforcement responded quickly, determined the calls were a hoax and gave permission to return to regular learning. But for many students and teachers, it wasn’t so easy to snap back into their normal routine after fearing for their lives.
“The kids are not ok,” said Representative Boylan (D-Dist. 66, Barrington, East Providence). “Students are told to hide from an active shooter in their school, and then twenty minutes later are told ‘never mind, get back your math test.’ We need a better way to respond to these events, with guidelines and protocols so teachers know what to do and how to address the trauma caused.”
These terrifying hoaxes, known as “swattings,” are occurring across the country with alarming frequency. There were 51 school shootings last year that resulted in injury or death, so officials must take every threat seriously.
Representative Boylan has introduced a resolution (2023-H 6422) that would bring together 20 experts and stakeholders from across the state in a commission to study lockdowns, fire drills and the associated mental health supports for students. The commission would be made up of public safety officials, teachers, students, mental health professionals and legislators. It would be tasked with answering complex questions such as whether and when students should be encouraged to evacuate during lockdown events, whether advanced notice should be provided to students and/or parents prior to a lockdown drill and whether the frequency of drills should be changed.
Under current Rhode Island law, schools are required to conduct one fire drill each month, and two evacuation drills and two lockdown drills each year. There is significant debate about the mental health impact and efficacy of these drills. Currently, 40 states, including Connecticut, require lockdown drills and ten, including Massachusetts, do not. New York is currently considering reducing the number of mandatory lockdown drills from four a year to just one, and allowing parents to opt their students out entirely.
“As a parent volunteer in 2013, I was in my son’s 4th grade class during the first post-Sandy Hook lockdown drill, hiding in a closet with 20 terrified kids. And kids have to do that twice a year,” said Representative Boylan. “Is that what’s best? Could we be doing things differently? That’s what this commission is about.”
The commission will also investigate how the state can better support schools and teachers in establishing trauma-informed practices associated with drills and lockdowns. A 2023 study from the organization Everytown for Gun Safety found a 39% increase in depression and a 42% increase in stress and anxiety for students in the days following an active shooter drill.
“During these lockdown simulations, we’d sometimes have police come around and shake the doorknobs to make sure they were locked,” said Sherri Simmons who taught 5th grade in Maine and now lives Pawtucket. “The kids were terrified, trying to climb into my lap, asking me questions I didn’t have good answers for. And what could I tell them? We need to examine the way we’re doing this.”
The commission will also study best practices and how to maximize the chances of keeping students safe if the worst were to happen. Some school districts, including Barrington and Johnston, follow a process known as the ALICE protocol, which encourages staff and students to barricade doors and prepare to evacuate or fight back if necessary.
“This is our new reality,” said Representative Boylan. “Swatting events and lockdowns are going to keep happening. Students and teachers are being left mostly on their own to deal with these traumatic scenarios. We need to do better job of providing guidance on how to do the drills and how to cope in the aftermath of actual lockdowns. This commission will take the time to really study this issue and help chart the best path forward.”