Call to Action from First Responder School Nurses on School Shootings and the Trauma of Drills

What educators, school districts, legislators and parents need to know from the crucial insider view of health care providers

 

In the latest issue of Current Trauma Reports published online November 22, 2019, the journal invited papers from all disciplines to give a diverse perspective of the issue of school shootings and the solutions to gun violence. Assistant professor Sunny Hallowell, PhD, PPCNP-BC, of the Villanova University M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, was the invited senior scientist on the nursing paper, School Nurses Share Their Voices, Trauma, and Solutions by Sounding the Alarm on Gun Violence, with co-authors Robin Cogan, MEd, RN, NCSN, lecturer and Donna M. Nickitas, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, CNE, FNAP, FAAN, dean and professor of Rutgers University – Camden, School of Nursing; and Donna Mazyck, MS, RN, NCSN, CAE, executive director of the National Association of School Nurses. The authors bring to life the voices of school nurses on school shootings, which call for new strategies regarding protection, preparation, and prevention.

School nurses - first responders in emergencies such as school shootings - are charged with the safety of the students and staff. The authors ask cogent questions including: What is the impact of violence on them and the community for which they care?  What about prevention strategies such as active shooter drills and their effects on the children? Does repeated exposure to these hyper-realistic training drills increase stress and cause trauma? 

“…invest in an active and engaged school nurse workforce that is well-positioned within school environments to transform fear into courage and anticipation into action by implementing student-focused strategies rooted in prevention.”

Dr. Hallowell notes in the paper that “Standard response protocols (SRP) like school safety drills, fire drills, and tornado/hurricane/earthquake drills have been implemented as early as the First World War. The memory of air raid drills and the lingering effect of the experiences have been well documented”.  As the paper discusses, “Fear has long dictated how schools invest their resources in response to gun violence. In the wake of a series of school shootings that began in the 1990s, school safety is now a multi-billion-dollar industry.  Implementation of hyper-realistic active-shooter drills using methods employed in military training are not evidence-based methods for preparing school children or school communities.  “The school community should decide before implementing a program. After a program has been selected it needs to be reviewed and evaluated by everyone regularly, including parents, families, school districts and municipal response services like police departments.”

The authors identify that the expertise of school nurses should be taken into account when designing drills or other interventions to prevent school shootings:

“Self-defense may not be the only option in an option-based model. A multi-strategy, multidisciplinary approach to violence prevention that considers student and faculty development and mental and emotional health may be a better way to prepare for a tragedy. One strategy may be to invest in an active and engaged school nurse workforce that is well-positioned within school environments to transform fear into courage and anticipation into action by implementing student-focused strategies rooted in prevention.”

With the knowledge and skill of school nurses being critical for the physical, mental and emotional health of the students, Dr. Hallowell says, “Nurses are well positioned in schools to design and implement solutions that are appropriate and address the developmental needs of children in the school environment.”