Schools should include children with disabilities in their specialized safety emergency plans. If our children aren’t included, they won’t be prepared for an actual emergency. Active shooter drills teach us to run, hide, and fight. Children with special needs may not be able to run, hide, and fight like other students. School safety drills can be stressful, loud, and overstimulating for children with special needs. They can also create anxiety, stress, fear, sensory overload, and disruption for students.
Can Safety Drills be Included in my Child's IEP?
Ask your child’s school what their safety plan is for your child in an emergency or active shooter drill. I recommend asking to specialize your child’s safety plan and include it in their IEP. This lets you give recommendations on how to incorporate your child’s unique needs during emergencies. It also lets you develop additional plans based on your child’s current and anticipated responses to an emergency.
You know your child best. You know how your child reacts to loud noises. You can help your child’s school be prepared to evacuate your child by giving examples of accommodations or things that will help your child remain calm in emergency drills and in an actual emergency. You can ask your child’s school to include any of the following accommodations to help your child stay safe:
- Include your child in safety drills
- Does your school have a checklist to use in emergencies?
- Ask for a plan to teach your child how to respond to a safety drills
- Ask for assistive technology to help your child understand
- Assign your child a buddy to help them
- Have an emergency go kit prepared
- Have noise canceling earphones available
- Have fidget items or stress balls on hand to help them remain calm
- Have books available to help keep your child preoccupied when they get to their safe place
- Have food on hand
- Have your child’s medication if needed
- Show your child a picture schedule for all directions to help your child understand
Can I Opt Out of Safety Drills?
You should have the option to opt-out of safety drills by keeping your child home during scheduled drills. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, participation should not be mandatory and parental consent should always be obtained before active shooter drills. If you opt out of safety drills, ask your child’s school how your child will be included in real active shooter emergencies and evacuations.
How Can My Child be Included in Safety Drills?
Your child’s school should have a plan to move all students including students with disabilities to a safe location immediately. It’s important to understand how your child is included in safety drills. I recommend asking your child’s school for a copy of their safety plan and asking the following questions:
- Is there a system in place to account for every child in an emergency?
- Does the school have a school and childcare checklist in place?
- Does the school have a threat assessment plan?
- Is a member of the IEP team a member of the threat assessment plan?
- Do you have a written plan for evacuating and moving kids to a safe place in an emergency?
- Has the special education director reviewed the safety plan?
- Has the school psychologist or behavioral health specialist reviewed the plan?
- Who is responsible for your child during the drill or an actual emergency?
- Does this person have training and practice in case of an emergency?
- Is there a designated site for sheltering children in place?
- Are substitute teachers and administrative staff trained in case of an emergency?
- How will you be kept updated and notified on your child’s status?
- Are emergency responders aware of your child’s special needs?
- When I be notified of safety drills in advance?
- Will there be a psychologist or behavioral health specialist on hand after the drill if necessary?
What Can I do to Help my Child?
It’s important to explain to your child why the school conducts active shooter and safety drills. Reassure your child that these drills are meant to protect them in case of a real emergency. Explain to your child that law enforcement and other first responders are there to help them. Ask your child before and after each drill if they have any concerns or fears. This will help you communicate with your child’s IEP team changes that can help for future drills.
Coordinating with your child’s school to include them in safety drills will help keep your child safe in an actual emergency. It will help prepare your child to stay as calm as possible during emergency drills. Remember that you are your child’s advocate and your child’s IEP is a fluid document that can modified or updated as needed. You can contact your state's emergency preparedness contacts if you want to know your state's laws or have questions pertaining to your state's laws. Contact your child’s IEP team to modify their IEP plan if you need to make any changes. You may not know what changes need to be made until after your child participates in a safety drill. We all want our children to remain safe especially during emergency situations.