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Last school year, 4 million students were on lockdown

During the last school year, more than 4 million students participated in at least one lockdown, most often in response to a perceived gun or violent threat, a Washington Post report found. And these perceived threats, psychologists say are causing students trauma. Reporter John Woodrow Cox joins Hari Sreenivasan for more.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Over the generations there has always been some type of school drill. During the Cold War, there were duck and cover drills, in different parts of the country today there are tornado earthquake drills but a more common occurrence today is a school lockdown driven by gun violence and mass shootings.

    I recently spoke with Washington Post reporter John Woodrow Cox, co-author of a groundbreaking analysis examining how many children are impacted by these lockdowns and what some of the consequences are.

  • JOHN WOODROW COX:

    So we looked at the 2017-2018 school year, just that, and we found that more than 4 million kids had gone through lockdowns in that year alone and we suspect actually that the number, the total number is actually quite a bit higher. So it's millions and millions of kids that go through this every year.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Well what are the ripple effects here? On the one hand, the school districts are going to say listen, we want to be prepared for the worst case scenario. We want to have these children prepared to be able to take action on a moment's notice and you only get that by drilling enough. But what are the kinds of unintended consequences that you're finding?

  • JOHN WOODROW COX:

    Well, you know, I think there are enormous, honestly and you know we know that kids who've gone through these lockdowns have wept, they've soiled themselves, they've texted their parents goodbye because they thought they were going to die in their schools. We've seen kids that have actually written wills saying, you know, this is who I want to get my PlayStation and my bicycle. So certainly schools are in a really difficult position because they can't not take something seriously they have to take every threat, every potential threat seriously. But the damage to kids can be very real.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So what are the consequences from say, a child psychologist perspective? What are the longer term impacts?

  • JOHN WOODROW COX:

    So what we know in talking to psychiatrists and psychologists is that you know the vast majority of kids are going to be OK but the kids who maybe have had trauma already, they're highly susceptible to lasting anxiety, lasting fear, some kids are going to have sleeplessness, they're gonna have a harder time paying attention in school, they're going to have a harder time going back into that classroom where maybe they hid in the corner in the dark and thought that a gunman was there to kill them. So the ripple can be significant, just like it can be in any other sort of traumatic event.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Four million kids. How frequent a year? How frequent are these?

  • JOHN WOODROW COX:

    So on a typical day last school year there were at least 16 lockdowns and more than half of those were related to guns or the threat of guns. They're quite common.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So This is happening in school districts coast to coast?

  • JOHN WOODROW COX:

    Absolutely. There is no one who is immune. And you know, we see huge spikes after things like Parkland, you know, the two weeks after Parkland we saw, you know, a doubling and tripling of lockdowns all across the country. And then we even see locally, after the Las Vegas massacre. The schools there saw huge spikes in lockdowns as well. So you know and that's because it's on people's minds when they see these violent events then it becomes very real to them. And so when they get a threat, they take it seriously and it's especially frightening in those instances.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Is there anything that these school districts are learning that they can do better about this?

  • JOHN WOODROW COX:

    The schools that are really being thoughtful are putting in layers basically is that just because there's a threat where there's a shooting down the street or a bank robbery, they're not going into full blown lockdown, which is what we sort of conventionally think of, as lock all the doors, turn the lights off, hide in the corner. There are doing steps that are short of that. So something that they call maybe a lockout or a shelter in place where instruction in the classroom can continue. But nobody is allowed to come in or out of the school.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You know, how did you figure out that there were this many that were happening?

  • JOHN WOODROW COX:

    So it took months of research. We reviewed over 20,000 news stories in total and we reached out to about the hundred largest cities districts within those cities in the country. We got data back from 31 and that's how we we put together that figure. But what we know is that lots and lots of school districts don't track this and we know that a lot of them never get reported in the news so even though we know it's over 4 million, that number could be double potentially.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    John Woodrow Cox, the Washington Post, thanks so much.

  • JOHN WOODROW COX:

    Thank you.

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