D-51 employee raises a red flag about the way D-51 conducts lockdown drills compared to other school districts

A highly experienced School District 51 employee who came here from the front range with over 20 years experience in conducting lockdown drills in other school districts is raising red flags about the way D-51 conducts its lockdown drills, and the trauma it is causing students. The employee describes a heartbreaking experience during a lockdown drill with a room full of kindergarteners during the 2023-2024 school year and the lasting  effects it had on students. The employee has brought the problem up with school counselors, the D-51 School Board and Tim Leon, Director of Safety and Security for District 51, and even proposed different ways to conduct these drills that are used in other school districts that don’t traumatize students the way D-51’s drills do, and offered research by the National Association of School Psychologists on how to mitigate the negative psychological effects that lockdown drills have on young kids, but the employee’s urgings have been ignored at every turn.

Out of frustration, the employee wrote an essay about the unannounced lockdown drill experience and what it is doing to young children in D-51, and sent it to AnneLandmanBlog in hopes of drawing public attention to it. I am publishing it here so everyone can see what is happening to kids inside D-51 schools during these drills, how they are negatively affecting the district’s youngest, most vulnerable students, and why D-51’s lockdown drill policy needs so badly to be changed.

The writer’s name is withheld to prevent identification of the students mentioned in the essay:


It’s a sad commentary on our society that schools have to have lockdown drills to prepare for a potential mass shooting. Since the Columbine massacre in 1999, Colorado public schools have been conducting these drills, and it’s up to each district how those drills are conducted.On the Front Range, where actual school shootings have happened, the common practice is to have announced drills which entail a low-key approach meant to minimize the traumatic effects of such a drill. There, students and school staff are notified that the drill would be taking place, allowing them to properly prepare their students for what to expect and why.Students with special needs and limited English proficiency have someone with them to help them understand what is happening and to cope with the situation. Students are allowed to use the bathroom in advance, and to grab a book or something else that can occupy them while they’re waiting.Classes are cleared quickly and students are able to resume learning activities within the classroom once they are cleared, while other classrooms may still be waiting, which maximizes normalcy.Once cleared, the security officers and police congratulate the students on a job well done and remind them this is just a drill. They keep it very positive and light.As a result, these students go into drills calmly and the after-effects are minimal for most students. 

Let’s compare that approach to how lock-down drills are conducted in District 51.Two lock-down drills are required each year, and they are unannounced.Students and staff have no idea whether or not it’s a real threat or not.Students are not prepared, and as a result, there is a lot of anxiety with both children and adults.This is especially problematic for kids who don’t understand English, students with autism or other special needs, and kids who come from violent homes and/or have PTSD from traumas.These students are not prepared in advance or given a support person to help them through it. Teachers and schools are given “extra credit” for having a weapon such as a baseball bat or chair ready to use to attack the intruder.Students go into a dark room and have to remain completely silent until their class is cleared. If they have to use the restroom, they are not allowed to leave. Instead, they must use a bucket in the presence of their peers, with only a plastic shower curtain for privacy. Students with limited English language comprehension, those with special needs, and those with other special circumstances are not given any preparation, and they often don’t understand what is happening, which is terrifying when one considers the effects of seeing a teacher holding a baseball bat ready to bash in the face of whoever opens the door.There may be the intention of clearing classrooms of younger students, but the execution of that is not coordinated in advance so the very youngest children, 3-4 year olds in preschool have been known to have to wait in that dark room silently for an hour or more. Often, the officers will try to gain access to a classroom using “tricks” to see if the teacher or students will open the door for them.Once cleared that class has to stay in their safe place until the whole school has been cleared, so learning cannot resume in any meaningful way.The result of this is that kids are not learning the most important thing to do in a crisis/emergency; to stay calm. 

Educators know that kids learn best when their brains are not in panic mode. When the amygdalae in our brains are activated, which happens when we are faced with possible danger, all our brain-power goes to surviving with the fight/flight/freeze/fawn mode. We are unable to think from our prefrontal cortex, which is where we are able to problem solve and learn new information.With that in mind, this type of lockdown drill is the exact opposite of what kids need, which is to remain calm and able to act quickly and possibly problem solve.Unlike fire drills, where kids have been taught to remain calm, quiet and to follow directions from their teachers, lockdown drills are filled with anxiety-provoking stimuli.Kids are learning nothing about how to react in a real situation.Students can leave this situation with fresh trauma, especially those who are already vulnerable.

I am an educator in the district. I am keeping my identity anonymous to protect the identities of my students.I had a class of kindergartners with me during the first lockdown drill of 2023-24 school year. It was unannounced so these 5 year-olds who had never experienced a drill before had no idea what was happening.I quickly brought them to my safe place, a small room in which the only light was from a computer monitor. I tried to whisper a story about being brave, tried to occupy them and keep them quiet, but their anxiety was through the roof. A student with autism started to cry, loudly.No matter what I tried, I could not console or distract him. This got the other kids crying, and it wasn’t long before every single child was crying, some very loudly. If this was a real situation, we would surely have been targets. We were not hidden due to the noise of these young babies who were terrified.This anxiety resulted in many of them having to use the bathroom.I couldn’t let them leave the safe room, so they had to take turns peeing in a bucket. Imagine me, trying to hold up a plastic shower curtain to give them some privacy, with 18 kids crying loudly, wondering if someone is going to come in a shoot us all to death. It was the number one most stressful time of my entire life, and I have experienced a lot of stressful events. It took about 40 minutes to clear my class.Afterward, when I tried to talk to them to debrief the situation, they all expressed fear and had so many questions about safety.For many kids, school is their only safe place, and now, school was no longer safe either.This is heartbreaking on so many levels, and is so wrong.We are needlessly traumatizing children. 

Toddlers practicing a lockdown drill (Photo: Daily Telegraph)

After this event on October 19, 2023, I contacted the head of safety and security, Tim Leon.I sent him an email explaining my experience and all the reasons above for my concern with how lockdown drills are conducted.I never got a response.So I contacted every district leader that should have cared, including the Chief Operating Officer, Superintendent, and finally the School Board. I didn’t receive a single response from any of them, with the exception of the Director of Social Emotional Learning (Amy Frazier), who had asked the COO to reach out to me. I did tell him my concerns, as outlined in this essay.He claimed unannounced lockdown drills were required by the State, to which I corrected him. He said he’d look into it and get back to me. I never heard another word from him.I reached out to the Counseling Coordinator and other school counselors for support. I heard nothing back from any of them.I have talked to other educators who share my concerns but didn’t have the experience I do of seeing how things are done differently in other districts.But now that they are aware, they are also asking for change. 

I have done everything in my power to keep my concerns internal, to give my employer the opportunity to do what is right, and I have been largely ignored.This is an issue I feel so strongly about, that I am bringing it now to the public, in hopes that you will help me in pressuring the School Board to adopt safety procedures that include announced lockdown drills and support for kids with special circumstances.If you agree with me that this cannot be ignored and changes are needed to protect our children and school staff, please email the School Board at https://www.mesa.k12.co.us/apps/contactus/index.cfm .Thank you for reading this, for caring for the well-being of our children, and for your support and advocacy.

Yours truly,

A District 51 employee

Related resource:

Unannounced active shooter drills scaring students without making them safer, National Education Association, Feb. 25, 2020

  20 comments for “D-51 employee raises a red flag about the way D-51 conducts lockdown drills compared to other school districts

  1. I am a district counselor and have brought this up for years and have shared the research. I was ignored. It is unconscionable that this continues. Our kids are traumatized enough without having these surprise drills dropped on them. And yes, many high school students are triggered by them, as well as some staff. I have been in buildings where a security officer tells a teacher in the hall to go to lockdown and the screaming of the staff begins to get the kids in rooms. We are working so hard to be trauma-informed counselors, but it is harrowing to think we are helping to cause the trauma. I so appreciate the teacher bringing it here where maybe some interest will be generated to actually bring about change.

    The state mandates lockdown, not how they must be conducted. I have also never understood the logic about them needing to be unannounced. I also know some middle and high school students, as well as staff, don’t take them seriously because they figure it’s a drill. If they were announced, at least the staff would know if the situation was real. I have had kids come up to me and mention that since we haven’t had a drill for awhile, it will probably be soon. Some of our children live with an underlying anxiety of waiting for the unannounced drill to happen, but never quite being sure.

  2. This is only D51 related but I thought it might be important. Did anyone else read the transphobic letter to the editor of the Sentinel yesterday that was written by Andrea Haitz. If I had a trans offspring in the school district, I would be concerned about how policies would be enforced about discrimination.

  3. Bravo to this teacher for speaking up! After having to deal with these horrible drills as a teacher, my husband created an “emergency go buckets” project at Fruita Middle School. These kits include a 5 gallon buckets, a bag of cat litter, toilet paper, plastic gloves, trash bag, and a plastic tarp for privacy exist so kids could go potty if they are trapped in a classroom’s emergency areas for longer than their bladders or bowels allow. Ya — in addition to the terror there’s possible humiliation.

    Moms Demand Action has long known that “Unannounced Active Shooter Drills Have No Place in Our Schools”
    — momsdemandaction.org/new-report-unannounced-active-shooter-drills-have-no-place-in-our-schools

    Everytown for Gun Safety shows that “95% of American public schools drill students on lockdown procedures. Yet, there is almost no research affirming the value of these drills for preventing school shootings”

    We have allowed daily police presence in nearly every American public school for the children’s “safety” since the Columbine tragedy — even though “there is no clear evidence that the use of metal detectors, security cameras, or guards in schools is effective in preventing school violence.” – National Association of School Psychologist, School Security Measures and Their Impact on Students (Research Summary)

    Even the NASRO (cops in schools lobbying group) is concerned about the “to the rapid rise in the use of intensive and highly sensorial armed assailant drills following the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School”

    Sadly, several years ago when parents and teachers got wise to the advisement that everyone, parent/child/teacher, should be allowed to opt our for their own mental health, the “advice” was “updated” in the NASP’s ARMED ASSAILANT DRILLS IN SCHOOLS pamphlet to subvert those opt out recommendations
    – nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-safety-and-crisis/systems-level-prevention/best-practice-considerations-for-armed-assailant-drills-in-schools

    There’s no justification for terrorizing children. Is it any wonder that parents are increasingly choosing homeschooling over public school?

    • FYI, my buddy called me all sorts of pissed off because D51 was allowing/encouraging kids to pee in the kitty litter because they were furries. Another weird right-wing conspiracy. I told him it was because of the lockdowns and explained, and he got even more pissed off.

  4. It’s inexcusable that D51 officials didn’t respond to this employee’s concerns.

    However, there may be a very good reason these drills are conducted without warning. After all, mass shooters don’t usually let schools know they are coming.

      • There is no hard data about which approach is best…just opinions…as with just about everything.
        I obviously read the post because I commented that the employee’s concerns should have been addressed

        • Not opinions. Read the study.

          “ Everytown partnered with Georgia Tech to study changes in social media conversations related to 114 American schools spanning 33 states, 90 days before active shooter drills compared with 90 days after the drills. This included drills in a mix of elementary, middle, and high schools.”

          “ The results were sobering: Active shooter drills in schools are associated with increases in depression (39%), stress and anxiety (42%), and physiological health problems (23%) overall, including children from as young as five years old up to high schoolers, their parents, and teachers. Concerns over death increased by 22 percent, with words like blood, pain, clinics, and pills becoming a consistent feature of social media posts in school communities in the 90 days after a school drill.”

  5. I totally agree with this teacher that lockdown srills are just that. They should be announced in advance for preparation as fire drills are. I worked as a sub para in a kindergarten class 2 years ago. Qe had a drill. I was told to sweep the hallways for kids which i did very quickly. I was locked out of the room in a matter of seconds. A suppoet teacher who had been working with a child in the hall asked the teacher about letting me in. The teacher told her no. I was left out there nit knowing if it was a srill or a real event. I was traumatized. When security came around, they unlicked the door and let me in where i huddled with the teachers and cgildren for another 15 minutes.

  6. Author of the essay here – I want to make a correction and give a detail. I did eventually get to talk to Tim Leon and go into detail about my concerns. It took several attempts to have this conversation and was done only because the Chief Operating Officer directed him to call me. Tim Leon’s response was, “At least we don’t do it like some districts do, with yelling and screaming and guns drawn.” Wow, that’s the bar, apparently. In reading the attachment Ann added from NEA, I am even more horrified and motivated to make real change at the legislative level. What are we doing to kids?

  7. I am also a D51 employee, I have shared similar concerns with district leadership about the ways our lockdown drill procedures are not trauma informed over the past several years. I believe the way lockdown drills are currently preformed is causing harm. I hope the community will help encourage the district to make changes to better support the wellbeing of students and staff.

  8. This is unnecessary abuse of children!
    Surprising that D51 is this ignorant of how to minimize harm to children. Is GJPD overseeing these drills?

    • I believe they are done in conjunction with the Sheriff’s Dept outside city limits, and GJPD for schools inside city limits. They are always coordinated through Tim Leon.

    • It’s the whole country that does these drills. GJPD makes money off these drills. Please be clear on what’s happening here. These drills are taxpayer funded terror of children. (research citations in my response above)

  9. Why doesn’t this surprise me? True concern for the well-being of our children is not among the D51 priorities!

    • Not with this Board, for sure. They put their own kids in charter and private schools, then suck the life out of everyone else’s schools.

      • These drills have been in place LONG before the current school board. This is bipartisan abuse of children. Dems need to step up!

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