COBB COUNTY, Ga. — Sophomore Niles Francis was in history class at South Cobb High School in early February, when a voice came over the school loudspeaker. It was a lockdown drill, the first at South Cobb this school year.
The drill happened shortly after a gunman opened fire in a Marshall County, Kentucky high school, killing two and wounding several others.
After Niles worked with his classmates to move heavy objects against his classroom door, he sat in the corner of the classroom and wondered why schools don't conduct these drills more often.
But instead of forgetting about it once the drill was over, Niles wrote his state senator, Horacena Tate.
He hoped state lawmakers could bring consistency to safety drills across the state.
"When it comes to guns, they don't agree at all. But school safety and the safety of our children should be important, so at least there is something that they can agree on," Niles said.
Before he heard back from Tate, there was yet another school shooting. This one, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, left 17 dead.
Tate introduced a bill requiring lockdown drills statewide. It was late in the legislative session, and while the Senate passed it, it didn't get through the House.
But both chambers passed resolutions to form study committees to look into school safety. Sen. John Albers chairs the senate committee.
"We're going to go in with a completely open mind, yet know that we have one thing, one main focus and that focus will be to make sure that we're protecting the schools and the students and the teachers and the staff and the parents that are in those schools," Albers said.
CHANNEL 2 INVESTIGATES:
DRILL NUMBERS SKYROCKET
Albers wants mandatory drills and a requirement that schools report the drills to the state. Right now, schools report drills to the state on a voluntary basis. But an analysis by Channel 2's investigative unit shows a big jump in reported drills.
So far this school year, schools reported more than 2,000 drills. Last year, the reporting topped out at 1,500.
The difference is even more stark looking at the month of March alone. This year, right after the Parkland Florida school shooting, the number of drills jumped to 480. That's triple the number of drills in March of 2017.
SAFETY MEASURES OR SCARE TACTICS?
But there's a concern:
"You could end up doing more harm than you realized," school psychology expert Catherine Perkins of Georgia State told Channel 2 Action News.
Perkins is the past president of the Georgia Association of School Psychologists, and a member of the National Association of School Psychologists.
The association recommends against unannounced drills.
"We don’t want to induce trauma in staff members or students unnecessarily," Perkins said.
She also said drills should be a part of a larger education program that's age appropriate.
All things for the study committee to consider.
"We're going to meet with students, teachers, with parents and administrators, with first responders and community leaders to formulate the best plan," Albers said.
Niles Francis, hopes he's one student who gets a chance to talk to the committee.
"Get involved, your voice is...is not as quiet as you may think," Niles said.
© 2020 Cox Media Group