So, there's something I've been pondering for quite some time, mostly since my daughter started junior high five short years ago. It was part of my decision to make sure she had a cell phone.
The biggest reason was safety. Since the junior high was across the soccer complex from the elementary school she'd attended, I'd been witness to several of the "fights" that occurred on a semi-weekly basis on the walking path between the junior high and the elementary school. And when I say "fight," what I really mean is "a large mass of older, larger boys ganging up on one or two very small boys and beating the shit out of them."
And yes, you bet I called 911 when I saw it happening! Unfortunately, it took at minimum two minutes, and sometimes up to six for the first police cruiser to show up. And the kids knew that. We, meaning the parents who saw these "fights," could practically time them with a stopwatch. It never failed that those kids would up and abruptly disappear, melting into the surrounding neighborhood at least thirty seconds before that first cop showed up.
And lest you say, "oh, but the kids must have heard the sirens," let me just add... the cops never came with the sirens going. They wanted to catch these kids, so they always came silently. Lights flashing, no sirens.
I wanted my daughter to have a phone to (1)call the cops at the first sign of trouble and (2) to get photos of the perpetrators.
And as she joined athletics, the phone became necessary for her to be able to call for a ride home after practice. Or to let me know she was staying at school for tutoring.
But there was another reason I wanted her to have a phone.
See, I've given both of my kids the "If There Is Big Trouble" speech after giving them cell phones. It doesn't have to be someone walking into the school with rifles and shotguns. It could be a tornado. It could be a natural gas explosion. It could be a zombie apocalypse. Whatever. I wanted my kids to have a phone so that they could call for help, whether it's 911 or Mom. Or both. So they wouldn't have to depend on school landlines.
I have told both of my kids, "if someone comes into your school shooting, I want you to go to your classroom door and lock it, then get everyone into the farthest corner from the door against the same wall the door is on so they can't be seen. If there's a window in the door, cover it. If there are windows in the classroom, cover them. Call 911 or designate someone who is calm to call. Turn tables on their sides, or desks and get behind them as cover. If there's a closet in the classroom that locks from the inside get in it, lock the door, and stay quiet. If you have an opportunity to slip out a window and escape, then do it and run for the nearest house or building and tell them what's going on and to call for help. Then stay there."
I've given them instructions for tornados and floods, too. Because I believe in being prepared. I believe in giving your kids tools to deal with the unexpected as far as you can, because not doing that is kind of... well... foolish.
I want my kids to survive, dammit.
Why am I writing this today? Well, what happened in Connecticut last week was a reminder for me of just why, no matter what physical measures you take to ensure safety in a school, it just... isn't enough. Why is it that schools have fire drills for our kids, to teach them how to safely exit a building without panicking in case there's a fire, or schools have tornado drills to teach our kids how to seek shelter in the school building during extreme weather... but there are no drills to teach our kids what to do when someone comes into the school wanting to hurt them?
You can put all the metal detectors you want around a school, and you can lock doors, install bulletproof glass, etc. And I'm not sure that those are really good ideas. Nor do I think arming teachers is a good idea, either. I really, really don't. Teachers are human beings and subject to the same frailties as the rest of us, and I really don't think it's a good idea to put handguns in a classroom setting for anything other than instructional purposes. Really.
What I do think is a good idea is instituting "Shooter drills," for lack of a better description. A random drill where a prearranged signal is given that everyone will recognize immediately means "shooter on the premises," and the school goes on lockdown. Teachers hustle kids into their classrooms, lock the doors, turn out the lights, cover the windows and secure the kids behind a wall of desks or something. Custodians lock doors between corridors to limit an unauthorized person's mobility, and lock doors to essential systems like the power plant, etc. Designated people, like office staff, or librarian, nurse, counselors, call the police and emergency services to alert them to the problem so that help is on the way immediately. Kids that are outside are hustled away from the building as quickly as possible and taken to safe locations within the neighborhood until help arrives.
Practice this every couple of weeks, until it becomes automatic, just like fire drills. I know there are some of you who are thinking this is very scary, and how can I even suggest it, that it'll scare the kids and make them fearful.
Do you seriously think our kids aren't fearful right now?? And you know what? Being prepared takes the fear out of it. It gives them something to do, something to focus on, gives them a little bit of the control that's been taken away from them back. They can do this. They can hide and make themselves as safe as they can and SURVIVE. Isn't that the most important thing??
Of course, this is all hitting kind of close to home for me, because I got a text from my daughter two hours ago during her lunch period. It seems that there was a rumor going around the cafeteria that a couple of sophomores were talking about having stolen "guns" from the local WalMart, and were saying they were going to "shoot up the school" this Friday.
You bet your sweet ass, I called the school!! And apparently, I wasn't the only one. In fact, the beleaguered secretary informed me I was the sixth or seventh parent to have called her in six minutes to ask about that very thing. She assured me the administration knew about it, and were investigating it, and would be sending a statement home with the kids. I asked if the police had been informed, because I'm thinking if WalMart was robbed, there would be a report, so they'd be able to confirm or deny, right?
There hadn't been time to call the police, because they'd only known about it after the phones started exploding with anxious parents calling to ask about it. And I could hear every single phone they have in the main office ringing off the hook in the background. So... I totally get it.
I am totally hoping this is an instance of Kids Being Stupid and trying to scare each other after the events at Sandy Hook Elementary. I am hoping it's just holiday goofiness, though it's in very poor taste. Besides, these things usually happen with little to no warning, so... to have talked about it to the point where rumors are going around would sort of... defeat the purpose, right? Right?
But you know, there's that tiny doubt in the back of my mind that thinks, "What if it isn't? What if someone really means it? What if someone really is stupid enough to bring shotguns to school...?"
And that tiny little pinprick of doubt is enough for me to think that being prepared is something we should all think about. And then do something about it.