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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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Florida Cracks Down on “Vaccine Tourism”

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  • Florida is now requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 
  • The state has been hit with “vaccine tourism” as many people, predominantly wealthy individuals, fly to the state from other parts of the U.S. and abroad just to get the shot. 
  • So far, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses administered in Florida went to out-of-staters, though it is unclear if all those people were tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents.

Florida Requires Proof of Residency

Florida is cracking down on “vaccine tourism” and requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get a COVID-19 shot.

Previously the state was allowing anyone 65 and older, including non-residents, to get the vaccine. This resulted in people flying to the Sunshine State from across the U.S. and abroad just for the purpose of receiving it. 

According to state data, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses Florida has administered have gone to out-of-staters. It is unclear if all these out-of-staters are tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents. 

Now, people must show a form of identification like a driver’s license or mortgage payment to receive it. Exceptions will be made for healthcare workers. 

Vaccine Supply Continues to Be Limited

Wealthy people in particular were quick to schedule travel plans to Florida for this reason. According to the Wall Street Journal, there was an influx of Canadians booking private jets to Florida. Some were looking to book flights there and back on the same day, leaving just enough time for them to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

Meanwhile, people in Florida and across the country are waiting in long lines and struggling to book appointments on glitching websites to get their shots. Vaccine supply continues to be incredibly limited and not everyone in high-risk groups have received them.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said this rule is not made to impact snowbirds, people who live in Florida during the winter to escape cold weather up north. 

“They go to doctors here or whatever, that’s fine, DeSantis said, according to CNN. “What we don’t want is tourists, foreigners. We want to put seniors first, but we obviously want to put people that live here first in line.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (CNN) (Travel + Leisure)

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Amanda Gorman Wows the Nation With “The Hill We Climb”

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  • Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, impressed the nation when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
  • Gorman’s said the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol inspired her to focus on a message of hope, community, and healing in her poem.
  • Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all praised her work.

Amanda Gorman Becomes Youngest Inaugural Poet

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wowed the nation on Wednesday as she spoke of healing, unity, hope, and what it means to be American while reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

At 22-years-old Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at the age of 16. She then became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017. 

Now, her books are topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list and they are not even scheduled to be released until the fall.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden became a fan of Gorman after watching her give a reading at the Library of Congress. She then suggested that Gorman be a part of the ceremony. 

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried,” Gorman recited during inauguration. “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.”

Like President Biden, Gorman has struggled with a speech impediment and has been open about her experience overcoming it. She actually used poetry as a tool to correct it. First, she used it as a way of expressing herself without having to speak. Then she used it to bring her poems to life.

“Once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me,” she told CBS News. “I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment.”

What Inspired “The Hill We Climb”

Gorman said the inaugural committee gave her freedom and flexibility when it came to choosing what to write about. She was well on her way before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those events then influenced her writing. 

“It energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope, community and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  

That message came across clearly and the insurrection was depicted in part of “The Hill We Climb.”

“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.”

Nation Impressed by Gorman

“Wow…Wow, I just, wow you’re awesome,” Cooper said when closing his interview with her. “I am so transfixed.” 

Lin-Manuel Miranda also cheered Gorman on. “The Hill We Climb” notably references a line of scripture that appears in a “Hamilton” song. Gorman also said she used to sing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” to help her say her R sounds and correct her speech impediment. 

“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Oprah Winfrey wrote. “Brava Brava Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I.”

Winfrey also gave Gorman a ring with a caged bird on it—a reference to the famous Angelou poem— which Gorman wore during the inauguration. 

Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the onslaught of praise, saying that her words will lead the nation. 

Former President Barack Obama echoed that idea as well, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gorman promised to run for president one day. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (Los Angeles Times)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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