Arming Politicians with Action

I imagine a moment when an announcement over the P.A. system declares:  “This is a lockdown, not a drill.”   Immediately I close the classroom door, lock it, turn off the lights, hunker down under the tables with my students, and stifle their cries.

Should this scenario be part of teacher training courses?

Apparently so because already teachers in America go through these lockdown or active shooter drills each year.

I have experienced two real lockdowns at Hoover High School though no actual threat materialized.

As if the demands of the job aren’t already stretched to incredible lengths, now teachers have to absorb the remote yet real possibility that one day a nightmare may appear in their classroom.   And those educators need to run through in their minds how they will actually handle a situation they don’t ever want to face.

If the perpetrator shoots into the room, do I barricade the door and, if so, can my students help me move heavy items to do it, do we pray under the tables that he won’t see us, do I physically try to take the shooter down, knowing my life and the lives of my students are at risk, or do I actively ignore the current lockdown procedures and make a run for it?

Wednesday night CNN held a televised town hall meeting at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida, a 20-minute drive from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland where the Valentine’s Day massacre of 17 students and teachers occurred.

The arena holds more than 20,000 people; the high school has over 3,000 students.  No one was harmed in the arena due to security measures in place.   Those measures should be replicated at every single school in America.

It would be easier to secure schools than pass stronger gun laws.

President Trump should hold an emergency meeting with his advisers and develop a plan that can implement immediately.  Unfortunately, we have a President who needs to have a cheat sheet—“I hear you”—on how to show empathy for grieving parents, and who believes arming teachers is the way to go.

We are all tired of the cell phone footage of students crouched under desks in terror, the anguish in the parents’ faces upon awaiting the news of their children’s safety, the candlelight vigils, the funerals, the signs, the pleas, the demands to do something, do something, please, please, do something.

Students who study the dangers of driving under the influence are aware that every 15 minutes in the United States a person dies from a car crash.   However, during that same time, a person dies in a gun-related incident.

While cars are regulated for safety—seatbelts and airbags are credited with lowering the auto fatality rate—guns are not.

The number of deaths, 26, and the young age of the children, 6-7 years old, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut along with President Obama’s tearful statement led many to believe that that would be the watershed moment, the turning point when politicians would finally act to stop the rampant gun disease; 200 shootings and 400 deaths later, nothing has happened.

What number of deaths will it take to get everyone’s attention:  50? 100? 500?  Maybe the death of a prominent politician’s child or grandchild?

Yet Congress has no problem passing legislation to expand the rights of gun owners.   Last December the House passed HR 38, Concealed Carry Reciprocity, allowing those with guns to travel from state to state and legally carry their weapons.

I pray that I never hear again “this is a lockdown” and that anyone I love ever hears that.   Children should not attend school even with the remotest possibility that they may not return home.  Yet in today’s climate, the first sound of an administrator speaking on the P.A. makes everyone jittery.

It is not about blue states vs. red states, Democrats vs. Republicans, pro-gun vs. anti-gun.

It is about having a country where the safety of its children is paramount, a priority superseding a citizen’s right to own a gun.


Schools Need More Secure Campuses

Everytown for Gun Safety reports that on average a school shooting occurs every week in America.

It is difficult to wrap one’s mind around such a statistic.   A school should be a haven for children, a safe place for parents to have their kids while at work.

When students go to school, all are expected to return home safely.

Only these days, there seems to be no sanctuary from maniacs causing death and misery to innocent people, the most recent example being the tragedy that happened last week at Umpqua Community College in Oregon.

How ironic that since 9/11 no foreign terrorist attack has hit our shores, yet terror has become more prevalent in the form of Americans who plan and execute random shootings on school campuses.

Have lockdowns and bomb threats become part of the culture of going to school for students and teachers?

When I took teacher credential classes at Cal State University, Northridge many years ago, there was never a discussion about what to do during a lockdown because Columbine was still more than a decade from happening.

As if teaching does not have enough challenges, now there is a sense of potential dread that at any given moment, completely unannounced and in the blink of an eye, a teacher and her students may face a deadly threat. Once that notion has been planted, it cannot be redacted from one’s psyche.

The common strategy on dealing with a shooter on campus is to have a lockdown, locking doors, turning off lights, and hiding under desks.

I have had to sweat it out over two real lockdowns that thankfully turned out to be harmless but were still emotionally trying for the two-hour duration as I huddled with 30-some students under tables on the floor with the lights out, some students sobbing.

The main rationale for this procedure is so that when the police arrive on the scene they won’t confuse who the shooter is.   Frankly, if I heard shots in the classroom right next to mine, I have no idea how I might react. It seems to me that making a run for it in the opposite direction of the shooting would produce a higher survival rate than cowering on the floor and listening for the shooter to approach.   A locked door would hardly deter a determined killer.

While the public and political pundits debate gun control, the local schools boards in our communities should work independently on how to better secure school facilities.

In Glendale, all elementary schools have secured entry doors that require a buzz-in.

Scott Anderle, Assistant Director of Student Support Services for GUSD, said that due to the recent bomb threat evacuation that took place at Hoover High, the district was able to put into use newly installed high definition cameras that aided in the investigation.

But even the most sophisticated equipment can’t detect an impending threat. That is where vigilance on the part of everyone is needed.

“We get our best info from students,” Anderle said.

The district will be examining modifications to its current lockdown procedures for an active shooter such as allowing the classroom teacher to make the decision whether to stay put or to relocate students to a secured location away from the incident “if it is safe to do so.”

No one wants schools to resemble penitentiaries, but in today’s America, prisons seem safer than schools.   When is the last time you read about a mass shooting at a prison?

Unlock the lockdowns

When I was in elementary school we used to practice two emergency drills:  one for fire which was an evacuation, and another for a nuclear bomb, commonly known as a duck and cover.  During the Cold War, the Red Scare, a Soviet Union attack, was on everyone’s mind.

Then the 1971 Sylmar earthquake happened and all the schools began practicing earthquake drills.

After the shootings at Columbine in 1999, soon lockdown drills were added to the emergency drill repertoire.

And now the history books will add Sandy Hook in 2012.  I’m not sure if this stomach-wrenching tragedy will generate any changes in emergency procedures.  However, here’s hoping smart people will reexamine the lockdown procedure.

I have experienced two real lockdowns.  Thank God, neither one turned out badly.  Much of the horror stems from the tactic employed of locking the doors, turning off the lights, students hiding in the corners. Remaining quiet and motionless on the floor, uncomfortably cramped under a table for two hours is terrifying, trying to peek through vertical blinds for any shadow approaching.

I’ve never understood the logic behind the lockdown drill.  Most school shootings are perpetrated by students who attend those campuses, meaning they are fully aware that just because a door is locked and a room dark does not mean no one is inside. Any killer can easily shoot out a door and find a classroom of sitting duck victims. 

At Sandy Hook, the murderer calmly walked into rooms and executed kids who were motionless.

For the teacher, there is no worse feeling than having no communication with the administrators.  Besides the P.A. announcement of a lockdown, no further messages are aired.  No e-mails are sent to teacher computers.  Cell phones aren’t even utilized.

“It was only fifteen minutes,” an outside observer may comment.  But let me tell you, when you are crouched down under a table, hearing muffled cries and whispers from students, unsure how to comfort them, unable to calm your rapidly beating heart, peering up through the slits of vertical blinds hoping not to get a glimpse of a gunman, it seems like an eternity.

I understand the logic of not having kids run wild.  A maniac is likely to shoot a moving target.  However, at least there is a chance of escape.  Crouching under a table only works on the completely random chance that the shooter doesn’t choose that classroom.

While we all know these tragic events are thankfully quite rare, they unsettle all of us:  parents, teachers, children.         

School officials need to figure out a better way of protecting children during future lockdown episodes.   Standing still in one place in the dark is not allowing innocent teachers and students a fighting chance.

It wasn’t that long ago when society feared a foreign intruder harming our nation.  Now, that intruder is among us.