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Survival training for school?

Lockdown drills have become commonplace in our schools, and our children are fully aware there is the potential for a school emergency on any given day. But how far should you go? Should you teach your child to escape, if a situation escalates?

Children at school |
Photo credit: monkeybusinessimages/iStock/360/Getty Images

We send our children off to school each day assuming that they will be safe from harm and busy learning. But unfortunately, the times we live in dictate that our kids must know that there is always a potential for danger lurking just beyond the school’s front gate — and there is a plan for how to handle any emergency scenario. Beyond the duck-and-cover drills for earthquakes and the lockdown drills for a potential “active shooter” situation lies that gray zone that has some parents worried that their kids may not be safe enough at school. What are they doing? Teaching their kids how to escape school.

Not your mother’s fire drill

We all grew up with fire drills at school, possibly earthquake drills or tornado drills depending on where we lived. Our children not only have these to deal with, but also terror drills, active shooter drills or evacuation drills. Controversy erupted in March when officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security joined with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and the New Jersey Department of Education’s Safety and Security Task Force to visit Glen Ridge High School in New Jersey for an unannounced school lockdown drill. While the reports indicated that everything went smoothly and officials were impressed, the implications of a completely unexpected drill — and the terror inflicted on the school children involved — made many parents furious.

Even more concerning to parents are so-called evacuation drills or relocation drills where students can be loaded on a bus, stripped of cell phones and driven to an unknown location deemed to be “safe” from harm. The implications that school officials might be able to transport their children to an unknown location without their consent has some parents upset — and considering alternative plans.

Should kids be taught to bug out?

Daisy Luther is a freelance writer, and on her website, The Organic Prepper, she offers information on healthy prepping, including premium nutritional choices, general wellness and non-tech solutions. She writes about these drills. “During these drills kids are not allowed to phone their parents and parents are not even allowed to know where their children are in many cases,” Luther writes. “In some incidences during which the school forewarns parents about the drill, the parents are told that they cannot pick up their children ‘for any reason’ during the drill. Many schools now boast of having supplies to keep children at the school for 48 hours in the event of an ‘emergency,’ during which time the children will not be released to their parents,” she adds. Under what circumstances would parents be allowed to retrieve their kids from school? Some parents feel that the obvious solution is to teach their children how to escape school.

“By no means am I suggesting that this is a legitimate course of action for every child,” shares Luther on her site. “Some kids are too young or too prone to panic and poor judgment to safely bug out. Some environments are too dangerous for a young person to take off on his or her own. Parents have to consider the skills and mindset of their kids before making plans like this. It can definitely be risky, and you have to compare it to the alternative of having your child herded along,” she adds. Luther says that she has a huge amount of faith in her child, and that they perform drills of their own.

Teaching kids to stay safe

Christina Rondeau teaches stranger danger to kids, is a 5th degree black belt and a safety expert. She is the author of two books on common-sense safety, The Elements of Staying Safe and Power Parent. “I do think kids should be taught how to escape and not just sit there to be a victim,” she says. “I teach my own two children that if they see an opportunity to escape they should if anything was to ever happen. So sad to have to teach this, but it’s the ugly truth,” she adds. “Kids need to learn they can use a dead body as a shield, climb out a window, run, hide and elude the shooter. They need to learn how to not be a victim.”

Will this work for your family?

Many families won’t be comfortable with having an escape plan for their kids. According to Luther, if you think this is a valid option for your family, there are a few things to consider. “Only you can judge whether or not your child or teen can keep a cool enough head to execute a similar plan and use their own judgment in a surprise situation,” she says. Luther shares the following tips on her site.

  • If there are younger siblings at the school, your older children will need to plan how to connect with them, and whether or not to abort the bug-out if they can’t connect with the younger ones.
  • You need to set up a primary and secondary rally point where you’ll meet your kids. This should be within a couple of miles of the school, and it should be a place where your children can stay hidden from the main road. The plan should always be to go to the primary rally point, but if for some reason that is unsafe or inaccessible, there should be a secondary rally point that is reached by a different route.
  • Figure out the route your child will take to get to the rally point. Practice getting there from the school. If possible, for reasons of safety and stealth, develop a route that does not use the main road to take them there. Hike or walk this route with your child until they are completely comfortable with it.
  • There are some situations in which evacuation is actually necessary. For example, some places are prone to forest fires, and you wouldn’t want your child out on foot in such a scenario. If the school building were to collapse, it’s obvious the children would be relocated to a safe shelter. This is the point at which your child’s judgment comes into play. It is vital to discuss different scenarios in which evacuation is necessary.

Bottom line? Only you know your children well enough to assess whether or not they are mature enough to determine when — and if — an escape from school may be warranted. But many parents are beginning to question the decision-making skills of school administrators, and are considering alternative plans in the event of a catastrophic emergency.

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