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Public school safety drills don’t promote safety in the least

Since the horrors of the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, public schools across the nation have taken extra precautions to protect students. With emergency “lockdown” scenarios and metal detectors, public schools drill students in order to prepare for the unimaginable: a gunman loose within school walls. But as a public school student, the incessant drills have proved troubling.

In Baltimore County, several different types of color-coded drills exist, the severest dubbed a “Code Red.” During such a drill, students and faculty are locked into classrooms, lights are turned off and students sit against the wall away from windows. The hope is gun-wielding attackers will think every single classroom is empty and keep moving. That is ridiculous.

In many school shootings, the person doing the shooting is in fact a student and has taken part in the same drills being initiated. In March of last year in Red Lake, Minn., a 16-year-old boy cornered five students and a teacher who had locked themselves in a classroom; each was shot and killed. For all attackers dark halls would be merely an inconvenience.

If schools want to protect students, administrators need to rethink drills for school shootings and prepare students for multiple scenarios.

The misconception is that such an incident could never happen here, yet it happens in similar parts of the country every year. Most students don’t take current drills seriously, as they also bask under the illusion that they are immune from school violence.

Students need to be creative and aware of their surroundings. One possible survival tip is to never hide in a bathroom. Usually, there are no windows and only one exit.

Also, a fire extinguisher can be used to lay down a blanket of fog to obscure the vision of a pursuing gunman.

Yet the most important tip not taught by schools is to simply get out of the building. If the opportunity presents itself, flee and run for cover outside.

Newer schools in Maryland are instituting safety devices. Doors now require the swipe of an identification card to open so administrators can monitor everyone who enters and leaves the building. Also, classrooms are built with their own individual emergency exits.

Yet safety drills remain the same, and older schools such as mine and hundreds of others across the state do not have the funding to make improvements.

My generation is the first to spend a far greater percentage of time in adult-supervised environments such as school clubs and sports teams than just hanging around the neighborhood. Ironically, many of my parent’s generation took drugs to think outside of the box during their younger years, but now prescribe medication for my generation so we will think inside the box. And the result hasn’t been completely positive.

Since childhood, the idea that we must follow the rules is grilled into our heads and that those superior to us — teachers and parents — are always right, no matter what qualms we may have. Yet in the case of a school shooting, rules do not apply and survival is the only goal. And in the end, the instincts of a teacher and a student are both human.

By insufficiently preparing students for disaster, Maryland’s public schools have let us down. Change is of the necessity, and in choosing to wait any longer, the lives of Maryland students and teachers will continue to be put in jeopardy.

Justin Snow is an editorial page intern at The Baltimore Examiner. He can be reached at jsnow@baltimoreexaminer.com.

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