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Nation’s Largest Teacher Unions Warn Against Active Shooter Drills Over Mental Health Concerns

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  • The American Federation of Teachers and National Educators Association issued a statement advising against active shooter drills for students.
  • The groups are concerned about the impact the drills have on mental health and said there is limited evidence that shows their effectiveness.
  • Instead, they included recommendations for schools that still wish to carry them out and encouraged comprehensive school safety plans to preempt gun violence.

Unions Advise Against Active Shooter Drills 

The nation’s two largest teacher unions are warning against active shooter drills for students over concerns that they can negatively impact mental health.

In a joint report released Tuesday with Everytown for Gun Safety, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Educators Association said they “do not recommend these drills for students and believe schools should carefully consider these impacts before conducting live drills that involve students and educators.”

According to the report, schools began implementing drills largely after the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School and they have become more commons in the years since. The report says that during the 2015-16 school year, 95% of American public schools drilled students on lockdown procedures in the event of a shooting in comparison to 40% during the 2005-6 school year.

However, the groups note that there is limited research on the actual effectiveness of these procedures. They also say they could be counter-productive, as school shooters are often current or former students. 

On top of that, the report adds that many for-profit companies charge districts thousands of dollars to provide training to carry out these drills. The unions argue that the funds would be better spent on measures like threat assessment programs, mental health professionals, and security upgrades, among other things.

The intensity of Active Shooter Drills Vary 

At least 40 states require school-based drills, but the unions argue that the statutes for the procedures are vague, leaving room for the intensity of the drills to vary across the nation. 

“In Indiana they were shooting teachers with rubber pellets so they would feel the adrenaline of what a school shooting would feel like,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action told HuffPost. “They shot all of us across our backs. I was hit four times. It hurt so bad,” one teacher said at the time. 

“In California recently, a superintendent hired a stranger to wear a mask to rattle the doors of classrooms without letting faculty and students know,” Watts continued. “We’ve seen students asked to pretend to be victims and lie down using fake blood in the hallway.”

The report also noted that the drills have started as early as preschool, with students ages 3-4 confined in spaces for extended periods of time. In other cases, lack of warning sparked chaos like at Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte Springs, Florida. A surprise “Code Red” drill sent students at the high school into a panic and many later opened up about the lasting emotional impact it had on them. 

As stories like this emerge, parents, teachers, and health professionals have started warning against these procedures. According to Melissa Reeves, former president of the National Association of School Psychologists, “What these drills can really do is potentially trigger either past trauma or trigger such a significant physiological reaction that it actually ends up scaring the individuals instead of better preparing them to respond in these kinds of situations.”

To showcase examples of this, the report quoted a New Jersey eight grader who spoke about her experience during a drill. “I was genuinely not sure if I would finish the day alive,” she said. 

After another incident in Tucson Arizona, a mother said her young son started biting his nails and refusing to go anywhere alone. Clinical psychologist Joy Levinson said she had patients who soiled themselves in school because the drills made them fearful of going to the bathroom alone. She also said that the lockdowns can signal to a child that school is unsafe. 

Recommendations for School that Preform Drills 

Though the groups recommended against the drills, they did include suggestions they support for schools that choose to carry them out. First, they advised against “simulations that mimic an actual incident.” 

They also said parents, students, and staff should have advanced notice and suggested schools create age-appropriate drills with the help of school personnel and mental health professionals. Along with that, they say drills should be paired with “trauma-informed approaches to address students’ well being.”

Finally, they suggested that schools track data about the efficacy and effects of the procedures. This should include information and symptoms resulting from the drills, like bad dreams, fears of coming to school, asthma attacks, or other details that could help schools reevaluate their policies. 

The report stresses that these drills should not be a school’s only plan to respond to a shooting. “They must be part of a comprehensive safety plan that includes measures to prevent active shooter incidents from happening in the first place, such as threat assessment programs, access to mental health professionals, collaborating with law enforcement, and engaging the community to ensure guns are not easily accessible,” the groups said. 

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (HuffPost) (Chicago Tribune)

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Medical Workers Sign Letter Urging Spotify to Combat Misinformation, Citing Joe Rogan

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The letter accused Spotify of “enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research.”


Doctors and Medical Professionals Sign Letter to Spotify

A group of 270 doctors, scientists, and other medical workers signed an open letter to Spotify this week urging the audio platform to implement a misinformation policy, specifically citing false claims made on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast. 

Rogan has faced no shortage of backlash over the last year for promoting vaccine misinformation on his show, which airs exclusively on Spotify. Most recently, he invited Dr. Robert Malone on a Dec. 31 episode that has since been widely criticized by health experts. 

Dr. Malone was banned from Twitter for promoting COVID-19 misinformation. According to the medical experts who signed the letter, he “used the JRE platform to further promote numerous baseless claims, including several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have ‘hypnotized’ the public.”

“Notably, Dr. Malone is one of two recent JRE guests who has compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust,” the letter continued. “These actions are not only objectionable and offensive, but also medically and culturally dangerous.”

Joe Rogan’s History of COVID-19 Misinformation

Rogan sparked swift criticism himself in the spring of 2021 when he discouraged young people from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. He also falsely equated mRNA vaccines to “gene therapy” and incorrectly stated that vaccines cause super mutations of the virus. He took ivermectin after testing positive for the virus in September, despite the fact that the drug is not approved as a treatment for COVID.

“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the doctors and medical workers wrote. 

“We are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform,” they continued. “With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.”

Rolling Stone was the first outlet to report on the letter from the medical professionals. Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, was among the signees. She told the magazine that Rogan is “a menace to public health.”

“These are fringe ideas not backed in science, and having it on a huge platform makes it seem there are two sides to this issue,” she said. “And there are really not.”

Spotify had not responded to the letter as of Thursday.

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Deadline) (Insider)

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Data Shows Omicron May be Peaking in the U.S.

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In some cities that were first hit by the surge, new cases are starting to flatten and decline.


New Cases Flattening

After weeks of recording-breaking cases driven by the highly infectious omicron variant, public health officials say that new COVID infections seem to be slowing in the parts of the country that were hit the hardest earlier on.

Following a more than twentyfold rise in December, cases in New York City have flattened out in recent days. 

New infections have even begun to fall slightly in some states, like Maryland and New Jersey. In Boston, the levels of COVID in wastewater — which has been a top indicator of case trends in the past — have dropped by nearly 40% since the first of the year.

Overall, federal data has shown a steep decline in COVID-related emergency room visits in the Northeast, and the rest of the country appears to be following a similar track.

Data from other countries signals the potential for a steep decline in cases following the swift and unprecedented surge.

According to figures from South Africa, where the variant was first detected, cases rose at an incredibly shocking rate for about a month but peaked quickly in mid-December. Since then, new infections have plummeted by around 70%.

In the U.K., which has typically been a map for how U.S. cases will trend, infections are also beginning to fall after peaking around New Year’s and then flattening for about a week.

Concerns Remain 

Despite these recent trends, experts say it is still too early to say if cases in the U.S. will decline as rapidly as they did in South Africa and the parts of the U.K. that were first hit. 

While new infections may seem to be peaking in the cities that saw the first surges, caseloads continue to climb in most parts of the country. 

Meanwhile, hospitals are overwhelmed and health resources are still strained because of the high volume of cases hitting all at once.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Wall Street Journal)

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COVID-Driven School Closures Top Record Highs, But Many Remain Open

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While some districts have implemented protective measures, many teachers say they fall short.


Schools Respond to Omicron Surge

U.S. COVID cases, driven by the omicron variant, are continuously topping new record highs, posing difficult questions for schools resuming after winter break.

According to Burbio, a data firm that tracks school closures, at least 5,409 public schools canceled classes or moved to remote learning by the end of last week due to COVID — more than triple the number at the end of December.

That is still only a fraction of the nation’s 130,000 schools, and many of the biggest school districts in the country are still insisting that students come into the classroom.

Los Angeles, which is home to the second-biggest district, is requiring that students at least test negative before they return to school this week.

In the biggest district of New York City, classes have already resumed following winter break. Although the city has said it will double random tests and send home more kits, students were not required to provide negative results.

Teachers Protest In-Person Learning

Teachers in other major districts have protested the local government’s decisions to stay open.

One of the most closely watched battles is in Chicago, where students on Monday missed their fourth consecutive day of school due to a feud between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D).

Last week, the union voted to return to remote learning in defiance of a city-wide order mandating they teach in-person, citing inadequate COVID-19 protections. Lightfoot claimed the conditions were fine and that students were safe, despite record surges, instead opting to cancel classes altogether while the fight plays out.

On Sunday, the union said it was “still far apart” from making any kind of agreement with public school officials after Lightfoot rejected their demands.

Lightfoot, for her part, has said she remains “hopeful” a deal could be reached, but she also stirred up the union by accusing teachers of staging an “illegal walkout” and claiming they “abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families.”

Meanwhile, teachers in other school districts have begun to emulate the tactics in Chicago.

On Friday, teachers in Oakland, California staged a “sick-out,” promoting 12 schools serving thousands of students to close.

See what others are saying: (The Chicago Tribune) (CNN) (The New York Times)

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