School bus

Wisconsin school children could be given advance warning of when they’ll participate in a fire drill or practice safety techniques for an active shooter drill under proposed changes to state law.

A bipartisan bill in the state Legislature would give public and private school administrators the ability to warn students, staff and families prior to fire, tornado or “school safety incident” drills if schools determine it “is in the best interest of pupils.”

Current law states the emergency drills should be conducted “without previous warning.”

Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, said the idea came out of a meeting of Dodge County school officials discussing school safety. The bill would give principals discretion over whether they want to provide a warning and to whom, Born said, which could be beneficial for students with disabilities who might have more adverse reactions to unannounced drills.

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“We’re trying to protect people from traumatic incidents, but if you’re creating emotional, mental and psychological trauma while you’re doing it, it’s kind of counter-productive,” said Sharon Schmeling, executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Religious and Independent Schools. “When you practice when you’re calm, you’re going to learn better.”

In February, the Madison School Board changed the district’s policy to require an advance warning for a “school violence event,” or Code Red, drill following criticism by parents who said unannounced active-shooter drills last fall at Marquette Elementary and O’Keeffe Middle schools left some children traumatized.

“School violence event” drills are separate exercises established under school safety plans, and state law does not explicitly preclude districts from providing advance notice for those, said Matt Bell, the School District’s legal counsel.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing Thursday before the Assembly Education Committee.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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