Unloaded Gun Reignites Debate Over Drills and Emotional Trauma

A 12-year-old boy found with an unloaded handgun at a K-8 school in October reignited a debate about active shooter drills

A 12-year-old boy found with an unloaded handgun at a K-8 school in Dorchester in October reignited a debate between faculty and the school’s principal about active shooter drills. 

The William Monroe Trotter Innovation School near Boston Latin High School does not conduct shooter drills because the principal does not want to traumatize children who may come from dangerous neighborhoods. But teachers feel unprepared. 

There have been multiple shootings outside the school in recent years, and a man with a realistic-looking BB gun walked through a parking lot behind the school not too long ago.

While the 12-year-old’s gun was not loaded and he did not pull it out of his bag, the fact he brought it inside the school concerned the Trotter school’s faculty, and some parents. 

“When I found out that we hadn’t practiced the active shooter response, I was kind of concerned,” said Krystle McClure, the parent of a Trotter student and co-chair of the parent safety council. 

The faculty met shortly after the weapon was found to talk about their desire to have some kind of active shooter drill to practice the school’s safety plan. 

Two faculty members contacted by NBC Boston declined an interview. 

Boston Teacher’s Union president Richard Stuttman said the union would have no comment on the issue, and that he was not aware of faculty raising concerns with the union leadership. 

According to Boston School Department records obtained by NBC Boston, Principal Mairead Nolan has not conducted any active shooter drills. She has conducted fire drills, as required by state law. 

Many parents are on board with Nolan’s reasoning, arguing that walking to school through the neighborhood surrounding Trotter, which has been the scene of several fatal shootings in recent years, is trauma enough for the students. 

“I don’t believe they should practice emergency drills,” said Dina Cundiff, the parent of a second grader. “I agree with the principal that it may re-traumatize the students.” 

The school regularly goes into a so-called safe mode, where people are not allowed in or out, and students often are brought inside from recess in a sort of reverse fire drill, all because of violence in the neighborhood surrounding the school. 

“I feel the fact that they have gone into lockdown so much by now they don’t need a drill because they’re doing it in real life,” Cundiff said. 

McClure and her daughter live near the Trotter, so she gets the hesitation. 

“I’m very well aware of the trauma that they go through, so I kind of understand, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to have a plan,” she said. 

School safety advocate Michele Gay, whose daughter was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, co-founded and is executive director of Safe and Sound Schools. 

She said practicing safety protocols is important, and there are ways to do that while being mindful of traumatizing students. 

“We’re seeing in a lot of schools that the staff is training at a much higher level than what we’re presenting to students, and especially young students,” Gay said, adding, “And that really is helpful for the community at large to know that they can trust that these administrators, these educators are engaging in training at a higher level.” 

Boston schools Superintendent Tommy Chang has made drills a priority in a new policy he outlined in a September 2016 newsletter to district officials. 

The School Department would not make Chang available for an interview. 

“In the interest of making sure students and staff are well versed in safety procedures, BPS has a policy requiring individual schools to conduct two ‘safe-mode’ drills per school year,” the School Department said in a statement. “The William Monroe Trotter K-8 School has scheduled two upcoming safe mode drills this school year. The BPS Safety Office regularly trains school leaders on how to conduct safe mode drills and other safety protocols, and is dedicated to working with school leaders to ensure a safe and welcoming learning and working environment for all.”

McClure said she is working with Nolan, who also was not made available for an interview, on a compromise for conducting some sort of preparedness exercise while still being mindful of the students’ mental health.

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