How does Social Distancing Affect Safety Drill Procedures In Schools?

By Omkar Katkade & Nafisah Hassan

 Look back to the time you were packed in the corner of your classroom alongside your classmates, waiting for the moment the loudspeaker said the lockdown drill was over. Remember walking out of the school in orderly lines during a fire drill as your teacher took attendance These were just normal occurrences in school.

Everyone was used to them, and everyone knew how to do them; but then the COVID-19 pandemic roared across the world and infected millions. Schools had to change. Most went online, but some Pennsylvania school districts tried to preserve face to face learning whilst keeping students safe.

 The Tredyffrin Easttown school district is testing a hybrid learning model. For two days per week, students will wear their masks to their school and  practice social distancing. The other three days will be completely online. An issue that students wonder about is the future of lockdowns and fire drills. How can classes crouch in a cramped corner while also practicing social distancing?

    One option would be not to have these drills at all. This eliminates the threat of any spread of the disease. However, these drills are considered essential. There are many reasons schools practice them. Threats like shooters, bombs, or fires are still possible. The pandemic is the more immediate danger, but what are students to do in the face of an active threat? If their instincts to follow lockdown procedures are triggered, they would be at high risk for both spreading and contracting COVID-19.

Ruqaiya Jackson is an 11th grader from Concord High School. She says that in her school, "Most of the time, fire and lockdown drills would just happen out of nowhere!" If a surprise drill occurred during a hybrid trial run, students would be clueless about how to stay six feet apart while performing the drill. Franklin Learning Center’s student handbook states that in a fire drill, “When the fire alarm sounds, staff and students are to begin leaving the building immediately in a safe and orderly manner, following the routes posted in each classroom. Students are to remain with their class in the area designated by their teacher.” If whole classes attempt to leave the building through the assigned  routes , remaining socially distanced would be nearly impossible . Any attempts to remain socially distanced may cause students to execute the fire drill incorrectly. The Tredyffrin Easttown School District’s safety overview says that in a lockdown drill, “Teachers will share emergency plans that are specific to their particular classroom settings.” Most of these plans involve students sitting close to each other in a corner away from windows. If students try to stay six feet apart in these drills, they may be seen through a window and exposed to the hypothetical threat. 

Shrey Sitaraman is a student at Conestoga High School who has opted to participate in virtual learning. Sitaraman said that if a fire or a shooter were in the school, he would prioritize either of those over social distancing. Students should not have to make that decision. There should be a way to protect them from both threats. 

Lucy Bennet, a parent in the T/E school district, says that schools should, "try to find a way to [practice the drills] while still maintaining the social distance and keeping everyone safe because obviously if [a threat] happened, you'd need to know what to do…"

    In the end, districts are doing their best to give students optimal learning opportunities. But what is important is that, in these unprecedented times,the districts are teaching students the safest ways to react to unexpected threats. Safety is crucial in both social distancing and drills.