What Parents Need to Know About Code Red Drills in School

Graphics by: Anna Wissler
Graphics by: Anna Wissler

While back-to-school time is exciting for children and parents alike, it can also bring up feelings of uncertainty and fear. We live in a new and sometimes scary world. School should be a safe place. But with school shootings as a regular part of our news cycle, it’s hard not to be plagued by worries over something happening to our children. 

For years, schools have been practicing code red drills—or lockdown drills—to prepare for a worst-case scenario. But if you’re a parent sending your child to school for the first time, it is tough to imagine your child huddling or hiding in their classroom during a code red drill. Dr. Lindsay Popilskis is a New York-based certified school psychologist at Clarkstown Central School District and Pathways of Rockland. With the help of Dr. Popilskis, we will cover the basics of code red drills in schools. Read on for what parents should know about these drills and tips for talking with kids about them.


What Is a “Code Red” Drill?

A code red drill is a general name for an alert that indicates a potential or immediate threat within the building or on a school’s campus. It’s the signal for a full lockdown of all classrooms. A code red drill will usually call for all students and staff to remain in or enter the nearest space and lock all classroom doors. Sadly, with many recent shootings, most public schools have now enforced code red drills to ensure the safety of students and teachers.

While code red drills vary from state to state, before the pandemic, more than 95% of public schools in the United States had drilled students on a lockdown procedure.


How Can Parents Prepare Their Children for Code Red Drills?

Start by asking your child’s teacher or school administrators for more information about how they communicate to their students regarding code red drills. In preparing children for these drills, Dr. Popilskis stressed, “Parents should ensure that they use identical language as the school does to avoid confusion. For example, a code red drill may be called a different name at school, such as a ‘lock down’ drill or a ‘hold in place’ drill. To avoid confusion and unnecessary anxiety, ensure that parallel language is utilized at home and at school. Even if schools address such codes at school, it is best for children to understand that their parents are aware and in agreement with such drills. Most of all, remind children that drills are in place to maintain a safe environment, not because the environment is unsafe.”


Most of all, remind children that drills are in place to maintain a safe environment, not because the environment is unsafe.


Parents can prepare their children by asking them if they have ever had a drill before or are even aware of such drills. Typically, young children such as pre-k and kindergarteners are taught about these drills in their class prior to doing the drill, explained Dr. Popilskis, who also shared these tips:

  • If children are already aware of these drills or have participated in them, parents can ensure their children are well prepared and feel safe by encouraging their children to ask any questions they may have regarding the drill or to open up about any feelings they may have about the drill. (Are they feeling anxious? Scared? What about the drill makes them feel this way?)
  • For children who are not aware of school drills, have a developmentally appropriate conversation regarding what a drill is and how it will look at school. Remind them that their teachers and other school personnel are well trained and will guide them. They should pause, find an adult in close vicinity, and listen to the adult’s instructions. After this is said and done, listen to your child and answer any questions they may pose.

Dr. Popilskis said that regardless of whether children have this knowledge, it’s essential to remain calm when discussing the purpose of the drill and to answer any questions their children have. “Just as we want our children to remain calm during drills, we must remain equally calm and collected. We are models for how our children behave.”


mom and child

Source: Tiger Lily | Pexels


Having Age-Appropriate Conversations About Code Red Drills

How much information should be relayed depends on the child’s age. Below are some age-appropriate guidelines from Dr. Popilskis for talking with your children about code red drills.


Elementary School

“For elementary-aged students, focus on the rules and procedures of the drill,” said Dr. Popilskis. “Explain that just like we would prepare for a big storm with flashlights and additional water, students also prepare for situations we hope will not happen. Explain to them that just like we practice math or reading, we want to practice preparing for an emergency – just in case!” 

In some schools, a reminder phrase is used to help kids remember what to do: “locks, lights, out of sight.” It’s similar to the fire safety “stop, drop, and roll” we learned as kids.


Middle School

“For middle school students, they likely have more information and access to social media. Add to these conversations by emphasizing that they play an important role in keeping their school safe. In the event of an emergency, by practicing and preparing in advance, they will know just what to do to ensure everyone’s safety. Help them feel some sense of control and convey how much you trust them. Again, your calm demeanor and reassuring attitude will go very far!” said Dr. Popilskis.


High School

Finally, with high school students, Dr. Popilskis says to ask them questions about their opinions regarding school violence and drills. “Acknowledge their opinions, feelings, and suggestions. Remind high school students that if they see something concerning online or in-person, to always report it to a trusting adult. If they are anxious and concerned, seek emotional and social support early, such as through the school counselor.”

Again, Dr. Popilskis said to model calmness and to answer their questions. “Reassure your children that you feel safe sending them to school and trust the adults that care for them.”

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