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NPS ponders value of lockdown drills

Thursday’s Norwalk Common Council Public Safety & General Government Committee meeting on Zoom.

Updated, 1:33 p.m.: Story revised; 8:41 p.m.: Information added.

NORWALK, Conn. — Lockdown drills are traumatizing schoolchildren and increasing anxiety, according to Common Council Majority Leader Barbara Smyth (D-At Large), a retired teacher.

In response, Norwalk Public Schools Education Administrator for Counseling & Social Services James Martinez agreed and said NPS is considering that, but, “unfortunately, we have to have them.” He commented that it’s difficult to reassure children when adults are also scared.

“Norwalk Public Schools is not considering doing away with lockdown drills.  Drills play a necessary role in safety and security,” Norwalk Public Schools Chief of Staff and Communications Brenda Wilcox Williams said Tuesday.

The conversation between Martinez and Smyth came at Thursday’s Common Council Public Safety & General Government Committee meeting, where a mental health discussion had been planned before the back-to-back mass shootings, first at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., then at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

“The assumption that the acts of mass violence are primarily driven by mental illness, that is not true,” Norwalk Chief of Social Services Lamond Daniels said. “There are many, many, many complex factors. And I think we’re always trying to struggle out how and why. … Blaming mental illness alone for mass shooting, inflicts a damage and stigma on the millions of people who suffer from mental illness. Because we know the vast majority of whom are struggling, they are not violent.”

Smyth said she’d been a Ponus Ridge Middle School teacher when the Sandy Hook Elementary School happened in December 2012, and remembered “how genuinely traumatizing the lockdowns are, the drills are.”

“We have a whole generation of kids who live in constant fear,” she said, remembering that she and her eighth graders “would all be terrified, and I would be my teacher self and take care of them. And then as soon as it was over, I would just shake and shake and start to cry. I did that for years. … Most teachers do. And this is what our kids are going through.”

She wondered how effective the lockdowns are and if there might be a better approach than “retraumatizing our kids.”

“It’s being talked about, it has been talked about,” Martinez said, adding that Uvalde triggered those feelings for anyone who was in education when Sandy Hook happened.

“We always focus on how making sure the kids are feeling a certain kind of way, but we overlook how the adults are feeling,” Martinez said. “… I think it’s almost as equal, it’s equally important to respond to the social emotional, state of the teachers and the staff in the buildings.”

Staff members can’t assure children that they’re safe when they don’t feel like it themselves, as children see right through it, he said.

“They’re like sponges,” he said. “… When teachers are anxious and nervous or scared and they think they’re hiding it really well, you know, the children will see right through it.”

The lockdowns are a “larger conversation, obviously” and “we’re going to continue talking about it,” he said.

Smyth said the mass shooting-inspired anxiety has become part of the children’s DNA and “it’s got to be a major contributing factor to the high increase in anxiety among this generation.”

On Tuesday, she said she is “not advocating to end the drills.. just asking larger questions about how traumatizing it all is.”

 

 

 

Original story:

NORWALK, Conn. — Lockdown drills are traumatizing schoolchildren and increasing anxiety, according to Common Council Majority Leader Barbara Smyth (D-At Large), a retired teacher.

In response, Norwalk Public Schools Education Administrator for Counseling & Social Services James Martinez said NPS is considering doing away with the drills.

The conversation came at Thursday’s Common Council Public Safety & General Government Committee meeting, where a mental health discussion had been planned before two back-to-back mass shootings, first at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., then at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

“The assumption that the acts of mass violence are primarily driven by mental illness, that is not true,” Norwalk Chief of Social Services Lamond Daniels said. “There are many, many, many complex factors. And I think we’re always trying to struggle out how and why. … Blaming mental illness alone for mass shooting, inflicts a damage and stigma on the millions of people who suffer from mental illness. Because we know the vast majority of whom are struggling, they are not violent.”

Smyth said she’d been a Ponus Ridge Middle School teacher when the Sandy Hook Elementary School happened in December 2012, and remembered “how genuinely traumatizing the lockdowns are, the drills are.”

“We have a whole generation of kids who live in constant fear,” she said, remembering that she and her eighth graders “would all be terrified, and I would be my teacher self and take care of them. And then as soon as it was over, I would just shake and shake and start to cry. I did that for years. … Most teachers do. And this is what our kids are going through.”

She wondered how effective the lockdowns are and if there might be a better approach than “re-traumatizing our kids.”

“It’s being talked about, it has been talked about,” Martinez said, adding that Uvalde triggered those feelings for anyone who was in education when Sandy Hook happened.

“We always focus on how making sure the kids are feeling a certain kind of way, but we overlook how the adults are feeling,” Martinez said. “… I think it’s almost as equal, it’s equally important to respond to the social emotional, state of the teachers and the staff in the buildings.”

Staff members can’t assure children that they’re safe when they don’t feel like it themselves, as children see right through it, he said.

“They’re like sponges,” he said. “… When teachers are anxious and nervous or scared and they think they’re hiding it really well, you know, the children will see right through it.”

The lockdowns are a “larger conversation, obviously” and “we’re going to continue talking about it,” he said.

Smyth said the mass shooting-inspired anxiety has become part of the children’s DNA and “it’s got to be a major contributing factor to the high increase in anxiety among this generation.”

4 comments

Ursula Caterbone May 31, 2022 at 7:15 am

In the fifties we survived school nuclear attack drills. The big difference was there were no nuclear attacks.

Barbara Smyth May 31, 2022 at 10:28 am

To clarify, I do not advocate ending lockdown drills, nor do I recall Jim Martinez stating NPS is considering doing away with drills. In fact, he stated clearly during the meeting that we have to do them. My purpose in asking the questions was to highlight the traumatizing effects of gun violence and active shooter drills to kids and teachers. My questions came up after conversations with very emotional parents of young children who were involved in the NPS secure lock-ins just before the horrific shooting in Uvalde. I do wonder if larger discussions are being had on how there might be better ways to prepare our kids and teachers for such horrors. Sadly, I don’t believe there are answers to my questions.

Piberman May 31, 2022 at 4:00 pm

A knowledgeable BOE familiar with well established protocols for securing public schools would focus energies and available resources on the standard protocols for securing schools. Namely single entry, guard, metal detectors, bullet proof/fortified doors on all school rooms, remote door closing and ample distribution of panic alarms.

Countries like Israel subject to terror attacks by well armed groups have found these protocols successful. In addition they have several ex-military armed school teachers on site and local police departments capable of responding within 10 minutes.

That Norwalks BOE has not implemented these basic procedures in widely in use here and overseas is puzzling. Especially more than a decade after an incident in CT. Parking a Police Cruiser in front of a wide open school makes for a good photo op. But is poor practice.

Also puzzling is why the BOE hasn’t asked our Police Chief and Mayor Rilling our former Police Chief for appropriate procedures. Mayor Rilling is a well schooled unlike professional. Are there members on the BOE with comparable Police credentials ? If not why not ask the City Police Professionals.

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