The horrible incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School continues to frighten and disturb our collective false sense of peace. No one could possibly be “prepared” or “ready” to circumvent a situation that was randomly such violent disregard for human life. My heart is still breaking for the community that has lost so many loved ones.
I do not want to underscore or undermine those brave teachers and other staff who protected and cared for the children in such a self-less manner. They are my heroes and the role models most teachers aspire to.
I was speaking to a friend on the telephone about a week after the shooting and she said to me, “How did those teachers know what to do?” I told her that we practice these things.
These school “shelter drills” began during the cold war of the 50’s, where the popular “Duck and Cover” method was practiced. Now we practice lining up in hallways far away from windows to prevent possible injury from breaking glass. We have frequent fire drills, so that everyone knows how to get out of the building as quickly as possible. About 15 years ago we began the “lock downs” and the “intruder” alert drills. At a signal given over the P.A. system, we lock ourselves and our students into our classrooms from the outside. We are instructed not to open these under any circumstance until the “all clear” signal is given.
During all these drills, we protectively place ourselves between the students and the possible danger. Of course all of us hope these skills will never be tested. If so, this is how we have practiced.
It’s a good thing we practice. One year there was a bomb-scare phoned into the school. Another year there was a gas leak across the street from the building. Both warranted a rapid evacuation in proper, fire drill fashion. No one was injured.
About 8 years ago, there was a neighborhood police incident that required this kind of knowledge. Across the street from my school there was a house surrounded by police, in what appeared to be a stake-out, with weapons drawn. It was 7:30 a.m. and parents were walking their children to school. Many were milling about near the stake out. All were afraid gunfire was doing to abrupt. The principal immediately called me on my cell phone, told me to usher all the children to the school cafeteria, whether they ate breakfast or not and keep them there. He and other school officials were urging all the students to stay away from the front of the building and sending them to the lunchroom, located in the rear of the building, furthest from danger.
A lot of children had been outside and witnessed some of the activity. They were talking about it. Before long, all the children were pretty nervous, as was I. I reassured them that we were safe; the lunchroom is in the back, this is a very large brick building, etc. I was instructed not to let anyone leave the lunchroom until further notice. I implemented a calm, cheerful exterior. “We are safe here; the danger is in the front of the school. Let’s just sit and relax and have a bite to eat until the principal tells us it is safe.”
By 8:00 a.m., the police had captured the man they were looking for. They had taken him away to the station and the school day began to resume as usual. The incident was quickly forgotten as the comforting routines of the school day began to take the place of the occurrence.
Only the administrators, teachers and staff of the school could imagine the possible, catastrophic event that this incident might have become. These drills are taken seriously. Besides being trained with multiple degrees in education and literacy, we have also been trained to ensure no harm comes to our students. Thank goodness we practice these things. Let’s hope these skills will never be needed again.