The drop procedure was used by students at Figueroa Street Elementary School in February 1996 when teacher Alfredo Perez was hit by a stray bullet.
Perez's fifth-graders ducked when the bullet flew through the window, and then they crawled out of the room and stayed on the floor until teachers told them they could get up.
Principal Rosemary Lucente credits the drop drill, which they practice at least once a month, with keeping the students out of further danger.
"It's unfortunate when you live in a big city, but those are facts of life," Lucente said. "It's important that parents feel this is an oasis, it is a safe place to be. I think we're accomplishing that with these procedures."
But some fear that shooting drills, like campus security guards and metal detectors, are eroding the image of schools as safe havens.
"Overall, I'm confident that our schools are very safe," said Larry Hutchens, assistant school district police chief. "However, it's our responsibility to prepare for all potential problems."
In the 1995-96 school year, the most recent for which statistics are available, one person was killed and another was injured in shootings on Los Angeles school district campuses. In addition, five students were shot--two fatally--as they walked home from school, school police said.
Jim Garbarino, a child psychologist who has written about the effects of violence on children, said he worries about the anxiety the drills could cause, fears similar to those many students felt in the 1950s and 1960s when they practiced nuclear attack drills.
"It's risky," Garbarino said. "If these drills convey a sense of insecurity about being in school, that may outweigh the benefits."
Garbarino, director of the Family Life Development Center at Cornell University, said he thinks the essential question surrounding the practice is: "Does having these drills convey to children the sense that adults are in charge, or a sense of panic?"
He said there are other precautions schools can take to ensure that campuses remain safe places, including pressuring gang leaders to declare schools neutral territory, working with police on enforcement efforts and developing a violence prevention curriculum.
Some educators agree they need more than drills to combat the gunfire that riddles neighborhoods and leaves communities shaken. But for now, they say, it is the best tool available to protect their students.
This spring, Stoner Avenue Elementary School in Mar Vista was caught between two gangs waging a deadly war of retaliation.
"We had a lot of practice" doing the gunfire drills, said Principal Farryl Weitzman.
Guns were fired near the school at least three times in the spring, forcing administrators to employ emergency procedures. A long bell rang until every child lay prone and teachers were sure the shooting had stopped.
During the last incident, 4-year-old preschoolers were being dismissed for the day when shots were fired across the street.
"The whole atmosphere for children is like being in a war-torn situation," Weitzman said. "You're always on the lookout and listening for popping sounds."
But some children said at least the drills help them feel more secure.
"Kids feel better because they know they're safe" under their desks, said Venice High School freshman Anay Cruz, 14, who learned the drill in kindergarten.
"It's good, 'cause you won't get shot," added seventh-grader Oton Garcia, a student at Marina del Rey Middle School in Mar Vista.
In April, alleged gang members fired at two Marina eighth-graders as they walked home from school. One of Oton's friends, 14-year-old Rafael Adan, was killed.
After his death, Marina students practiced the drop drill almost daily, Oton said. During lunch one day, he and other students had to duck behind a wall when teachers heard shots fired nearby.
"The teachers shout, 'Get down!' and you lay down so you don't get hurt," he said. "When it's finished, you run somewhere where it's safe."
But sometimes, Oton said, watching the traffic whiz through the busy intersection where Rafael was gunned down, "you still feel scared."