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The school lockdown generation

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Emilie Tolbert
A screenshot of a conversation between student Emilie Tolbert and her mother, during a recent school lockdown.

A sad reality in today's education is that schools have to prepare for violent scenarios. School lockdowns have become a common experience for students. Whether they are test runs or because of an actual life-threatening situation, but they can take a toll on those involved.

There are also some questions about how effective the drills are in protecting students.

Emilie Tolbert, a freshman student, says she believes the drills helped prepare her at North Mac High School.

“We were super organized through it, which I liked. We were prepared in that sense. But if there was an actual shooter, I don’t know what we would have actually done," she said.

"I'd probably panic a lot more than I did.”

November saw North Mac, along with nearby high schools Pana and Taylorville, go on lockdown in a single week due to threatening notes. While none of the incidents resulted in violence, that doesn't mean the students aren't harmed.

Betsy Goulet, Clinical Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Child Advocacy Studies Program at the University of Illinois Springfield, has studied trauma and worked in child protection for over 30 years. Goulet thinks that lockdowns and drills have become too common of an occurrence for schoolchildren today.

“This generation of kids ... the kids who are in our elementary schools right now, have only known a world where there are mass shootings and school shooter drills. I mean, when I think about that, it’s gut wrenching.”

Tolbert says at her school, students were eventually made aware of what was going on, but not at first.

“Well, I thought it was a drill for the first 10 minutes until my friend’s mom texted her. Her mom worked at the elementary school and asked what was going on. That’s when we realized it wasn’t a drill," she said. "Then people started posting about it, but I never felt scared. It was just kind of normal.”

Tolbert even used humor to get through the experience. She alerted her mom and texted "I got out of a quiz” and “still chilling.” She followed up with a selfie showing she was safe.

The Virden Police Department’s investigation into the note is ongoing and no arrests have been made at this time.

Taylorville officials found a note written on one of that high school’s bathroom stalls. Police were notified and a lockdown was ordered.

Matt Hutchison, Principal at Taylorville High School, said the school works to be ready for such instances.

“We perform lockdown drills. We have a couple of different types of lockdown drills. We perform them a minimum of once a year, and obviously in September we do all of our drills. That’s a good time to do them as we begin school.”

Hutchison also said the drills are color-coordinated like a stop light. Red is in case of an intruder. Yellow is a shelter in place lockdown where doors are locked and window shades are drawn. Green is when students are evacuated from the building.

Police made an arrest in the Taylorville case. Two juvenile students were also arrested in connection with the incident at Pana.

Continuation of a text conversation between student Emilie Tolbert and her mother during a school lockdown this fall.
Emilie Tolbert
Continuation of a text conversation between student Emilie Tolbert and her mother during a school lockdown this fall.

Lockdown drills are required by Illinois law following a bill that passed in 2005. But not everyone agrees they work.

The group Every Town for Gun Safetybelieves the drills need to be reconsidered.

Its website claims “95 percent of American public schools drill students on lockdown procedures. Yet, there is almost no research affirming the value of these drills for preventing school shootings or protecting the school community when shootings do occur.”

UIS Professor Betsy Goulet added the unsettling part of drills are that they give students, who are statistically more likely to be school shooters, vital information about how to navigate within a lockdown.

“The drills are really about reinforcing for that student, who’s already in the school, to know what is likely to occur when there’s violence in the building. So, think about that for a minute. We’re telling the very person here’s what we do when this happens," she said.

According to The Violence Project, a recent book where researchers interviewed school shooters, 85 percent of them are current or former students of that specific school.

Goulet mentioned that the book’s research found that one of the common denominators among school shooters is trauma.

“Students who had some type of early, early trauma — whether it was their own maltreatment, bullying, a parent’s suicide — they had that in common. They held grudges, they were angry, and they felt isolated.”

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