Assemblymember Simon and Sen. Gounardes Advocate for Bill to Make School Lockdown Drills More Effective

Senator Gounardes and Assemblymember Simon’s legislation, S6537/A6665, reduces New York’s excessive lockdown drill mandate from 4 to 1, and represents a smarter, safer approach to lockdown drills

Studies show that lockdown drills lead to a 39% spike in depression, a 42% increase in stress and anxiety, and a 23% increase in overall physiological health problems in young people

Brooklyn, NY As students and teachers return to classrooms and begin another school year, they are also preparing to conduct 4 state-mandated lockdown drills over the next year: one of the highest lockdown drill mandates in the country. These drills have proven to be damaging to the mental health of countless students and are not shown to be effective in keeping school communities safe. Advocating for a change to this mandate, State Senator Andrew Gounardes, Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, and representatives from Moms Demand Action, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, the NYS American Academy of Pediatrics, and March For Our Lives joined together with impacted parents today, pushing to change this excessive mandate, as well as ensure the drills are trauma-informed, age-appropriate, and have a standardized training plan in place for schools statewide. 

“As students and teachers return to school this week, they also return to the reality that they are forced to participate in the terrifying and traumatizing ritual of lockdown drills,” said State Senator Andrew Gounardes. “But we know now that there’s a smarter and better way to do this than continuing with our out-of-date lockdown drill policies. We need to make sure that our kids both feel safe and are safe at school, even if the worst happens — and we also need to make sure that we aren’t causing our children more trauma with excessive and ineffective lockdown drills. We gathered today to push for what we know is a clear and commonsense way to get us there.”

“We should be using evidence-based policy to prevent gun violence and keep our students safe, not forcing schoolchildren to participate in lockdown drills that inflict stress and anxiety. New York has one of the highest lockdown drill mandates in the nation despite the fact that there is almost no research to support their efficacy after more than 20 years of implementation throughout the country,” said Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon. “It’s time to take a step back and reflect on the efficacy of these drills, and it’s time to ensure that children not only are safe in school but feel safe as well. Let’s reduce the mandate from 4 to 1 drills and properly train school personnel so that the one drill is age-appropriate and trauma-informed, and give parents advance notice of the drill.”

Senator Gounardes and Assemblymember Simon’s legislation seeks to address the balance between keeping kids safe from gun violence and keeping kids safe from unnecessary trauma by:

  • requiring advance notice of lockdown drills to parents and guardians; 
  • allowing parents and/or guardians to opt their children out as needed; 
  • providing accommodations for students with PTSD or other emotional or physical needs which may have a particularly negative experience with such drills; 
  • mandating school staff ensure an age-appropriate explanation of the drills is shared with students; and
  • providing thorough and standardized training for teachers and school staff on how best to conduct drills, including how to respond to students’ physical, emotional, social, and developmental needs during such drills.
Additionally, Senator Gounardes and Assemblymember Simon’s bill would reduce the mandate to one at least annual drill — allowing schools to continue with more drills if they find it productive for their individual school’s safety but ensuring that schools whose students need a different approach to the system of lockdown drills by implementing fewer drills per year are no longer penalized. 

The mandate of 4 lockdown drills per year was passed into law in 2016 as part of the state’s annual budget, but these drills can have real and traumatic consequences on children. One study on the aftereffects of the drills shows that they led to a 39% spike in depression, a 42% increase in stress and anxiety, and a 23% increase in overall physiological health problems. In addition to this induced trauma, experts at Everytown for Gun Safety, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association also cite the feasibility of children retaining the information they are supposed to learn from the drills and increased risk of harm associated with fighting back against an active shooter. 

Currently, many NYS teachers do not receive any formal training on how to conduct the drills and instead learn by trial-and-error. They are not taught how to handle potential technical issues, such as classrooms with physical limitations like windowed walls, or prepared for students’ emotional responses. The drills vary widely across classrooms and schools, with some teachers receiving no prior notice that a drill is going to occur or instructions on how to explain the drill to students. Senator Gounardes and Assemblymember Simon’s bill would ensure that teachers are trained and supported before they run lockdown drills, so that they can in turn support students with clarity and calm when it is needed most. 

Alarmingly, some of the most significant school shooting incidents in history have been conducted by a current or former student of the targeted school, including recent mass shootings in Nashville, Tennessee; Uvalde, Texas; Santa Fe, Texas, and Parkland, Florida, and Newtown, Connecticut.These drills run the counterproductive risk of sharing critical information that can then later be used in a shooting.

"The New York State American Academy of Pediatrics, representing more than 5,000 pediatricians from across the state, is proud to support this proposal to reduce New York’s harmful lockdown mandate from 4 to 1,” said Dr. Warren Seigel of the NYS American Academy of Pediatrics. “Passage of this bill will require the more than 700 school districts across our state to standardize and incorporate trauma-informed and age-appropriate lockdown instruction that will protect the mental and physical health and well-being of our students, including those with disabilities. We further believe that teachers and parents working together play a significant role in ensuring children's safety.Passage of this bill will allow for transparency and engagement of all stakeholders so that the drills are effective and not harmful.”

“Some 3 million students are back to school in New York this week and safety is top of mind for parents, educators and government leaders,” said Robert Murtfeld, father of two children in New York City public schools. “Lockdown drills were designed to protect our children from the very unlikely scenario of a school mass shooting, but the system is deeply flawed and in dire need of reform. The Simon/Gounardes bill provides the necessary accommodations for a mandate that creates an actual safe and sound learning environment. It’s time for Albany to pass the new law and put an end to the self-inflicted trauma, which has damaged at this stage the mental health of multiple generations.”

"As our kids go back to school for a new year, we need to adopt laws and policies that prevent gun violence and trauma and do not cause more harm," said Rebecca Fischer, Executive Director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. "When it comes to safety protocols like lockdown drills in our school buildings, it's essential that we prioritize quality over quantity in terms of training, implementation, and trauma-informed services for students and teachers. We commend Senator Gounardes and Assemblymember Simon for championing a gun safety bill that will fix the law to better support our kids while ensuring our schools are safe and supportive."

"At March For Our Lives, we look at gun violence prevention holistically and advocate proactively, and this bill is a part of that approach – ensuring that students, faculty, and parents are prepared, without traumatizing and desensitizing everyone involved. Young people don’t need more trauma, instead we need more legislators who will pass tangible reform. We’re done being known as the lockdown generation. We’re done being told to run, hide, and fight. And we’re done with leaders who’d rather cross their fingers and put the onus on us to survive, instead of addressing the root causes that are fueling this epidemic," said Raghav Joshi, NYU college student, graduate of New York City public schools, and member of March For Our Lives in New York.

“In a series of recent reports, Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund (Everytown), in partnership with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), highlighted the importance of proactive school safety planning to intervene before school violence occurs, and outlined a set of concrete recommendations to respond to active shooter incidents. This research concluded that there is almost no research affirming the value of active shooter drills for preventing school shootings or protecting the school community when shootings do occur,” Everytown for Gun Safety said in a statement.