Chicago School to Use Real Gunfire in Student Crisis Drills

A controversial decision by a suburban Chicago high school planned for today has left many parents uneasy about whether the planned "code red" drill procedure will go too far and cause emotional harm to the students. Derrick Blakely of CBS News reports that although Cary Grove High School administration sent some parents an email explaining the drill, not all parents received it, and even those who did are asking questions.

This code red drill is different because school officials plan to simulate the actual conditions of an armed attack. Parents who received the email read that the simulation was to be as realistic as possible. The email stated:

The simulation will take approximately 15-20 minutes, during which time teachers will secure their rooms, draw curtains, and keep their students from traveling throughout the building. Please note that we will be firing blanks in the hallway in an effort to provide our teachers and students some familiarity with the sound of gunfire.

Cary Grove school is not the first to try using the sound of gunshots in a drill, but when Crystal Lake South High School used blanks in a drill last year, no students were present. It was only a training session for faculty and staff.

The Cary Grove police department has been involved in planning the drill, and the police chief supports the controversial simulation. School spokesman Jeff Puma added:

It was their recommendation that we do this in order to create the knowledge necessary to keep our students safe in an active crisis situation.

The drill procedures recommended by emergency management services can be very different from what people would do in a crisis situation. Fearful that children might be in a classroom that's planned for the next target, some parents assume that students should try to leave the school, as they do in fire drills. But in shooting drills, things are different, as Puma explained:

"I don't believe there would be any school that would tell you to do that, and that's coming from police and emergency management officials."

To police and school officials, the misunderstanding points up the necessity of having realistic drills. Members of the police department and school security will go through the building as the drill progresses, making sure that all students are safely inside locked classrooms and halls are empty.

About half the parents who have contacted the school are concerned that students will find the gunfire too emotionally upsetting. Cary Grove Principal Jay Sargeant says that the school plans to discuss the drill in advance, and then help the students process the experience afterward. To worried parents, his letter explained that parents and staff will work together to keep it an overall positive experience:

I encourage you to discuss the drill with your student both before it happens and after. These drills help our students and staff to be prepared should a crisis occur, but it may cause some students to have an emotional reaction. In those cases, your voice may provide reassurances of the drill's importance. Additionally, we have trained social workers on staff who can speak directly with your child should he or she need added support.

The school hopes that the drill will not leave students traumatized, but will instead help them be calmer in an actual emergency. As some parents agreed, it's better to be safe than sorry.

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