US students prepare for school shootings

NEW YORK • As the reality of school violence sinks in, the conversations among many US high school students have changed from "This could never happen here" to "What do we do when this happens?"

Students raised with the persistence of mass shootings and versed in the protocol of active shooter drills now think often of the possibility of a shooting in their schools.

They routinely consider the safety of their classrooms, even running scenarios in their heads about how likely they are to get shot.

Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting nearly six years ago - when this generation of high school students were of middle-school age or younger - there have been over 200 school shootings nationwide, including the recent rampage in Parkland, Florida, which inspired a youth-led movement to reform gun laws.

Shootings are so common that students talk in frighteningly practical terms about the location of doors and windows in their classrooms as risk factors.

They also calculate escape routes.

"It's like the front lines of a war," said sophomore Emily Rubinstein, who attends a New York high school. "Being seated in front of the classroom could be what makes you live and what makes you die."

On lockdown drills, she has learnt that the safest place to be is pressed up against the wall where the door is, so that if a shooter looks into the room, it will appear empty.

Still, she said those plans have not affected her schoolwork, friendships or extracurricular activities.

"We have all these thoughts. But there's still part of my mind that's like, 'No, it couldn't happen to me.'"

Many schools have decided that it could. A 2016 report from the US Government Accountability Office found that two-thirds of school districts conduct exercises to prepare for an active shooter.

In Martinsburg, West Virginia, Spring Mills High School held a "code red" lockdown this year without telling some teachers the event was just a drill. And after Sandy Hook, even elementary schools are bracing themselves for attack.

Some students are no longer shocked when they hear of a shooting, considering it simply a tragic part of growing up.

"At this point, it's just kind of a reality," said 17-year-old William Neffner at Roosevelt High School in Seattle. The once-a-month lockdown drills at school have become routine, as have the conversations at home about what to do or not do if a gunman arrived on campus. "It doesn't make it more likely," he said of the drills and conversations. "But it prepares you."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 22, 2018, with the headline 'US students prepare for school shootings'. Print Edition | Subscribe