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4 Million Children Participated In School Lockdowns Last Year, Many Were Traumatized


On a typical school day in the last year, at least 16 school campuses in the U.S. went through a lockdown - lights off, doors locked, students huddling in silence. While school shootings are still rare, lockdowns are now common across the country. A Washington Post analysis finds that more than 4 million students went through at least one lockdown last year. And these safety measures can traumatize kids. Steven Rich of The Washington Post is with us now. Hi there.

STEVEN RICH: Hey there.

SHAPIRO: Why are so many millions of students experiencing this?

RICH: Well, it's a simple fact of life in the United States that gun violence is everywhere. And where there's gun violence, there will be lockdowns. And so schools lockdown all the time because there is violence in neighborhoods that are right up against schools literally everyday.

SHAPIRO: And so most of the time, are these lockdowns tied to real threats of violence? Or is there any hypersensitivity on the part of school officials who feel like they need to look like they're doing something at the slightest threat?

RICH: It's both. So there is a lot of gun violence. And police ask the schools oftentimes to lockdown. But we have found that, especially in the wake of a shooting like what happened in Parkland, that schools get very sensitive and lockdown at the smallest threat. They do not want to take any chances. And there is not a lot of people out there that could blame them.

SHAPIRO: You talked to students and psychologists about the impact of these lockdowns on kids. What did you hear from the schoolchildren you talked to?

RICH: I mean, it's terrifying for a lot of these kids. We had talked to kids who wrote wills. We talk to kids who soiled themselves, who don't feel safe in their classrooms anymore. There's this deep trauma that is going to affect them moving forward that we just are not combating right now.

SHAPIRO: And the psychologists that you talked to went into what that trauma can look like as the kids get older. Tell us about that.

RICH: Yeah, I mean, the trauma can manifest itself in any number of ways. I mean, the one place that they felt safe before there was a lockdown was their school. And now they can't even feel safe there. And for many kids, especially those who live in cities where there is a high prevalence of gun violence, that is the last safe haven that they've just lost.

SHAPIRO: You talked to so many children who have been through this, who've been really affected by it. Can you just tell us about one of them?

RICH: Yeah, so there was this 12-year-old boy in Birmingham, Ala., last year who went through a lockdown shortly after Parkland. And what happened was he went through the lockdown, and he was so terrified that when he got home he wrote a will to his family, to his friends, giving away his - everything that he owned, letting people know in case this was the time that he got shot. And, you know, that is deeply affecting. I can't tell you how these kids that we spoke to keep me up at night. The things that are going through their heads during these lockdowns, I can't even fathom.

SHAPIRO: And so what does this mean for school officials who are trying to keep their kids safe but also trying not to traumatize kids? What can they do?

RICH: I mean, pretty much everybody we talked to talked about limiting these to when it is absolutely necessary. Many experts say that you need to debrief the students after one of these happens to make it clear, hey, look; we did this because the police asked us to do this. You were never in danger. We just wanted to make sure. But the problem is that most schools - they're not doing this. So the kids they go through this period of lockdown. They get out of it. And they have no idea what happened.

SHAPIRO: One of the people you quoted gave an interesting analogy to an airbag.

RICH: Right. When you get into a car crash, you want the airbag because it's going to save your life. But you don't want your airbag going off every day because you're going to knock some teeth out. You're going to hurt yourself. And so you need to be using these sparingly.

SHAPIRO: Steven Rich is the database editor for investigations at The Washington Post. Thanks so much.

RICH: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF KELPE'S "WHIRLWOUND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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