Living in an age of school shootings

Police Training

The horrific new “normal” in our schools? This is the stuff of nightmares.

Living in a school shooting era:  There is a stark difference between what this means to educators and what it means to members of our community who never step foot inside a school.

Yesterday, I posted the following to the Empowerment Through Education Facebook page.

“Today I participated in a dry run for a “lock-down drill” at a high school. The official lock down drill happens tomorrow, complete with fire department and police officer participation. In this drill, students are directed to run into classrooms, lock doors, shut of lights and cell phones and sit silently. Why? Because our schools – and our students – now exist in a reality where a SCHOOL SHOOTER is a real threat. I’m still processing this. I’ll have more to say in an upcoming blog. — In the meantime, I’m curious, have any of you experienced these drills, especially in the days since the Newtown shooting?”

I hadn’t even had the opportunity to process what this meant to me before several of my own friends and colleagues wrote to me personally and responded with their own concerns for their children and the new reality we live in.  One comment, however well-meaning, really illustrated to me (and I’m sharing here to illustrate to you) the massive lack of understanding our society has for how schools operate on a daily basis.  In addition to my work and my firm belief that we must get members of our community more deeply and effectively  engaged in our schools, I am beginning to feel that all members of our society *should* do the same.  I’m not a fan of the word should but it fits my personal feelings in light of the new reality we have no choice but to respond to as educators post-Newtown.

A well-meaning friend (to whom I’m grateful because it stirred this discussion) questioned whether and why the school I mentioned yesterday had or would be installing steel-reinforced doors, like the kind installed on airplanes within one year after 9/11.  In addition to the disparity between a for-profit airline industry and the woefully underfunded and massive system of education, I took issue with this for many reasons.  This was my response:

“Of course no one would object [to steel reinforced doors to protect our children] but do you have any idea how a school budget operates? When choices are made about which special ed teacher to cut to part time and how to reduce the per pupil cost school-wide so the school doesn’t have to take on 125 additional students next academic year with the same number of faculty? Most schools are located in buildings which have desperately needed upgrades for decades. Many still aren’t up to ADA standards. Many are known sick buildings. The school I was in yesterday is located in a temporary space used and designed for offices until a space can be found, funded and built. People don’t seem to understand that educating our children happens regardless of resources, politics, funding, space and obstacles. When a school wants to keep its children safe it doesn’t spend time yelling for steel reinforced doors, it does what it can TODAY to protect children NOW. And it also does what it can to continue to BEG for what would be wonderful to have in a perfect world but there is no perfect world for schools. The majority of them operate in triage mode on a daily basis. Hence my statement that ALL people should spend copious time inside a school before prescribing any recommendations. And comparing the airline industry to the education system is kind of like comparing apples to elephants.” 

I don’t know what the answer is.  Right now, I really don’t.