Schools Aren’t Preparing Students With Disabilities for Active Shooter Scenarios
By Jordan Davidson
Emergency preparedness is often an integral part of a school’s curriculum. Across the U.S., students simulate what they would do were there a fire, natural disaster or, since the Columbine shooting in 1999, an active shooter.
But not all schools require active shooter drills despite more than 100 school shootings in the U.S. since the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012.
Without a federal mandate, it’s up to states to determine what — if anything — schools practice. While some states issue guidance or require a certain number of drills to be performed each year, what schools do during an emergency is left to districts and individual schools to decide — and modifications for students with disabilities are rarely included.
An investigation by The Mighty found that guidance given to schools forces students with disabilities, teachers and parents to dictate what needs to happen amidst a crisis.
With minimal training, inaccessible recommendations and guidelines that offer little beyond “considering disability,” students, parents and teachers are left few resources to navigate these life-or-death scenarios. It is often their responsibility to make sure the person with a disability is included in the school’s plan — a burden required of no other student demographic.
At a school where all of the students have disabilities, what disabled students do in the case of an emergency isn’t an afterthought — it’s the first thought. To make sure its students are as safe as possible, Lavelle School for the Blind in the Bronx practices drills with all of its students — there is no opting out.
Many of Lavelle’s safety measures are structural. The school, which takes up an entire city block, is fenced in. The parking lot is automated and requires a key for staff to park. Visitors must “buzz-in” to enter the school and then wait in a separate reception area until an escort arrives to take them to their destination. Staff members are required to sign in and out through a digital system that requires their fingerprint and the last four digits of their social security number anytime they enter or leave the building. During dismissal, staff and security guards escort students to their busses.
The school also uses security cameras at each entrance and within the building itself. Outside, there are strobe lights to alert staffers the school is on lockdown. Each classroom has its own “night lock,” a small metal device teachers can slide under their classroom door, making it impossible for an intruder to enter.
The rest of Lavelle’s protocols are similar to what able-bodied students at a mainstream school would be asked to do but with adaptations to help students who are visually impaired, hard of hearing or have other disabilities. As part of lockdown drills, students hide out of view from the door. If they need to leave the classroom, orientation and mobility instructors are available to help students exit the building as safely as possible. For students who use mobility aids, staff members are assigned to carry students down the stairs once the elevators are turned off.
Most importantly, Lavelle’s staff knows how to work with the students who attend their school. If there is time for a blind student to grab their cane, that need is accommodated. “We would know never to pull a student without telling them where they’re going,” said Diane Tucker, Lavelle’s upper school principal. “They have to grab the staff member’s elbow so the person is actually guiding the student.”
For students who are anxious or have trouble breaking routine, Tucker recommends letting them hold on to a comfort item for an added sense of security. “Our staff is really good at knowing which students need more help and just trying to comfort them and be with them and support them as they get down to a safer area,” Tucker said. “We really have it down to a pretty good science at this point.”
As much as Lavelle tries to anticipate and prepare for every kind of crisis, successful emergency preparedness for students with disabilities is more than just practicing lockdown drills — it’s making sure first responders are prepared as well.
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