Lamenting the need for schoolyard active shooter drills

I vividly remember diving under my desk during earthquake drills as a kid. This was in the Bay Area during the 1980s, so the duck-and-cover maneuvers also carried Cold War implications.

Until 1989—when I experienced the big one, the Loma Prieta quake—tremors didn’t frighten me. They generally were small and just part of life in that part of the Golden State. But the specter of nuclear fallout spooked me.

Nowadays, though, kids are dealing with much more than the threat of earthquakes and nukes. Fear of an armed psychopath slipping onto school grounds isn’t unfounded. In addition to emergency preparedness drills related to natural disasters, kids go through so-called “active-shooter” exercises. Here in Chico, they’re referred to as “code red” drills, and the Chico Unified School District has been conducting them for many years.

It’s still hard to fathom that our children—in some cases 5-year-olds—practice lockdown procedures. I’m sure it’s anxiety-inducing for many of the kids, teachers and other school employees.

For me, the deaths of 13 innocent people at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.—a lovely Denver suburb where I spent a year of my life—drove home the horrors of school shootings.

For my generation, what’s become known simply as “Columbine” was unlike anything we’d seen. In reality, the history of mass shootings at schools dates back much further. Thirty-three years earlier, for example, a gunman killed 17 people on the University of Texas at Austin campus. I’d read about that violent incident—aka the Texas Tower shooting—long before what happened in Littleton. But I never expected something similarly gruesome to happen in my lifetime.

Sadly, two decades after Columbine, school shootings seem like a regular occurrence. Statistics show that the average death toll associated with them has spiked dramatically. A study published last year in the Journal of Child and Family Studies underscores the gravity of the epidemic: “More people have died or been injured in mass school shootings in the U.S. in the past 18 years than in the entire 20th century.”

Recall how 32 died at Virginia Tech in 2007; 27 perished at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012; and 16 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last year.

Closer to home just a few years ago, a 6-year-old boy was shot at Rancho Tehama Elementary School during a rampage by a crazed man in that town that left five people (not including the gunman) dead. Eighteen others were injured.

I recently showed one of my colleagues a video of a bulletproof, in-classroom shelter—a hut-like structure designed to hold up to 32 kids and a couple of adults. This is America in 2019, I thought to myself.

This week, for his first CN&R news story, staff writer Andre Byik reports on a recent incident involving Chico Junior High students that was frightening for kids and parents alike. There was no gun, nor do police believe students were in real danger. However, considering the aforementioned backdrop, the sad fact is that students, teachers, parents and school administrators cannot be too careful.