Schools balancing emergency prep, mental health
Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal - 4/5/2018
April 05--TUPELO -- As school districts plan for worst case scenarios, they are balancing emergency prep against adding anxiety.
Active shooter drills can feel very real to children already anxious over their safety at school.
"I'm not saying they shouldn't (have active shooter drills), but they need to be aware it could cause distress," said Tupelo licensed clinical social worker Leah Headings, who works with children and families. "Different kids react to trauma and stress differently."
Both Lee County and Tupelo district leaders said they have not conducted active shooter-specific drills with students on campus.
"One of the reasons is that it scares kids so badly," said Lee County Superintendent Jimmy Weeks.
The districts have opted for drills that practice more general lockdown procedures with students. Lockdowns address a broad range of situations, not just someone on campus actively trying to harm students.
Tupelo staff and school resource officers have conducted active shooter drills when students are not in the building, said Tupelo Assistant Superintendent Andy Cantrell. The drills with and without students are just one piece of the evolving school security puzzle.
"The first line of defense is to be proactive," Cantrell said.
That means communicating about the drills and giving students and staff multiple ways to share concerns and needs, Cantrell said, including a way to anonymously text concerns to school leaders.
Real-time communication should be a part of drills and emergency response for schools, said Joshua Magruder, clinical assistant professor for leadership and counselor education at University of Mississippi-Tupelo.
"Communicating as quickly and clearly as possible can curb anxiety," said Magruder, who worked with Delta State University students following a 2015 campus shooting.
Although educators and parents should consider what's age appropriate, students often handle more than adults think they can.
"They watch the news; they know what is going on in our world," Magruder said. "The lack of transparency causes more anxiety."
The Lee County School District is working with experts in the field to evaluate and update security and emergency protocols with evidence-based solutions, Weeks said. Those evolving protocols and procedures include preparing students for what they are doing and why they are doing it.
"If you talk to them about it enough, they still may be unnerved, but they will know nothing was wrong and we're just practicing," Weeks said.
Mental health resources are already in place, but school leaders are evaluating what else needs to be done as protocols and procedures are updated. All Tupelo campuses have counselors, and they have access to LIFECORE mental health professionals as well, said Paige Tidwell, Tupelo data/accountability and behavior coordinator.
"As things change, we have to move with that to protect the mental health of our students," Tidwell said.
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