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School shooter drills: Lewis & Clark Elementary says changing the language can help minimize harm

"Keeping our students and staff safe is our number one thing. If we don't have that going on, then we can't learn."

CALDWELL, Idaho — More than a year has passed since the tragic mass shooting that killed 19 children and two adults at a Texas elementary school. Since that time, schools in Idaho have taken extra precautions to ensure students are safe.

That includes the Caldwell School District.

"Keeping our students and staff safe is our number one thing," Lewis and Clark Elementary School Principal, Dr. Matt McDaniel, said. "If we don't have that going on, then we can't learn."

Across the country, school districts have been introducing new protocols to keep students safe in an emergency situation. At the Lewis and Clark Elementary School, those changes include an adjustment to what the drills are called.

"Little by little, we add procedures and protocols so we have a variety of different protocols that could be implemented at any given time. " Dr. McDaniel said. "They are not specifically shooting drills; they could be a response to any emergency around our school building."

Currently, there are six elementary schools in the Caldwell School District, but there is only one school resource officer (SRO) to serve all the schools. To meet that gap, the district works with local law enforcement and state officials to adjust their list of protocols and adapt the drills as needed.

"We are grateful for what we have but I think there is never a shortage of opportunity for more support for safety in our schools," Dr. McDaniel said. "There is an endless number of things we can continue to do to increase our safety."  

Those plans include lockdowns, evacuations and fire drills. With the recent increase in school shootings, shooter lockdown drills have been added, however, Lewis and Clark Elementary doesn't call them "active shooter drills"; the school calls it a "lockdown procedure".

The district believes using that specific language helps students and their parents feel safer.

"In terms of calling it an active shooter situation, I am hesitant to do that as a school principal because I want our school to feel safe at any given time," Dr. McDaniel said. " But at the same time, having procedures in place that would accomplish the same goal."

The teachers who deal with students first-hand during the drills believe they are a necessary tool to make students safer.

"It definitely makes you more aware of who is inside our building, who's inside our building and just who's around, right?" Eric Davis, a second-grade teacher at Lewis and Clark said. "So, we are more aware than maybe in the past."

Davis said teachers also rely on parents to help their children understand why these drills are important.

"I think it's important for parents to have those conversations. It helps us so we can add to it or work with the parents, so it's a community effort letting them know that 'hey, we are keeping you safe'," Davis said.

From 2013 to 2019, there have been 549 incidents involving a gun on school grounds, according to research by Everytown. Those incidents include homicides and assaults, suicides and attempted suicides, unintentional shootings, and mass shootings. 

 "I think it's tragic when it happens anywhere," Davis said. "Especially in schools where students should feel safe. It's a tragedy. It's sad."

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