Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Lock Down vs. Shelter In Place

We had a "shelter in place" at school today. It was not a drill.

It happened during 2nd period. I'm almost always at school during 2nd period, even though I only teach 3rd and 4th, so when stuff goes down (it always seems to happen in 2nd period), I get to be in on it, too. Yay?

My colleague had a band booster mom in the office working on some stuff, and two of the percussion instructors were there, as well. Lynn was outside on the football field with her band, so all was quiet, aside from occasional chatter among those of us in the music office. When our school's receptionist came over the intercom to announce the shelter in place, it took us all by surprise.

After all, you're never expecting it.

Understandably, the band mom was initially concerned, but she's not the type to freak out. "What is the difference between shelter in place and a lock down?" she asked me. Fortunately, I know the difference and could assure her.

A lock down is serious--this is when the armed intruder is on campus, wreaking havoc. In a lock down situation, we literally lock everything down. Instruction stops, doors are locked, and all students get down on the ground, as far away from doors and windows as possible. Blinds are pulled shut and door windows are covered, if possible. Everyone waits, on the floor, until the all-clear is given. If a student is outside of a classroom, they can be quickly pulled in to safety as the lock down starts.

A shelter in place is far less serious, more of a precaution. In today's case, two burglary suspects were in a nearby neighborhood and law enforcement was working to capture them. Because of the uncertainty about the whereabouts of the suspects, and how armed they may or may not be, law enforcement contacted local schools and urged caution. We never had anyone on campus today who should not be there; however, for forty minutes, we kept all students inside, doors locked, and kept teaching as usual, on the very slim chance that one of the suspects was able to evade police and decide to hide out on a school campus.

Shelter in place can also be used for situations where there's some sort of toxin in the air from a nearby leak--if anything very serious leaked, HazMat would get in there and evacuate everyone. With a shelter in place, there is no serious threat to the school or its inhabitants, only the vague sense of, "Well, it's possible that someone could cause trouble, so let's keep everyone safe inside until the threat has passed."

We were in place for about 40 minutes this morning, when law enforcement captured two suspects and notified the schools that all was well. Our day went on as normal, and there was no disruption to the routine because the shelter in place did not cross over any class periods.

Of course, I mentioned the whole event on Facebook, leading to one friend making the "was it really necessary?" comment. Yes. Yes, it was. Schools are responsible for the safety of the children in their care. To shelter in place when local law enforcement recommends it is not overreacting, it's common sense.

This, of course, led to me making a remark about how easy it can be to get a gun in this country, and almost started a debate (except that I'm just too tired to debate with people who are, you know, my friends) about guns and how easy/hard they are to get. I maintain that it's too easy. I could walk into a WalMart tomorrow and buy one. I have no criminal record. I do have a medical record of being treated for anxiety about seven years ago, but it's likely that no one would blink an eyelash. No one would know that five days ago, I cried uncontrollably over missing a doctor's appointment, and later had one of the assistant principals see me, pause, look again and ask, "Hey, everything okay?" Or how easy it was  to smile and chirp, "I'm fine! Just tired!"--to lie--and have him believe me.

So I could buy a gun on Thursday. And I could snap on Friday. Aren't you glad I loathe guns?

Is it likely? No. I'm not going to buy a gun tomorrow, I'm actually going to talk to my doctor about my recent stress and anxiety, and start the ball rolling towards advocating for my right to mental health care. Not everyone has that luxury.

I could go on for days about why I feel this country needs some tighter control on how guns can be purchased--notice I said "tighter control," not "eliminate guns" or "make them illegal." I know that's impossible, and I know--yes, I heard you the first three thousand times--that for the most part, gun owners are responsible, yada, yada, yada. It doesn't stop terrible accidents, but hey, if you sleep better at night knowing you have a gun locked up tight that you can't get to in time when an armed intruder comes into your home...more power to you. I'll take my chances without the gun.

Recently, the friend of a friend on Facebook challenged me in a thread about school shootings--"We should arm teachers."

I refrained from using all caps and going absolutely batshit on him, but here, I'll lay out my problems with that:

  1. If I had a gun in my classroom, it stands to reason that I would not want students to mess with it.
  2. Students, I know from personal experience, are great at pretending not to hear you. No matter how many times, and how many ways, you say, "Please don't touch the thermostat, it's not going to--what did I just say?! DON'T TOUCH THE THERMOSTAT." Yeah. They're going to touch it.
  3. So, I'd lock up the gun in a safe.
  4. And then, one day, an armed person wreaks havoc on my campus. Hey, the answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, right NRA? *wink*
  5. Except that I don't have my gun. It's locked up tight. Right, here's my key, I'll go get my gun. Except...
  6. My first priority is seeing my kids to safety. Right, everyone. Crawl into the uniform closet! I'll just lock you in and then go get my gun. I'll knock three times so you know it's me when I get back.
  7. Oh, wait, what? Jane is having a panic attack? Okay, let me help her. Well, wait, no. I need my gun so I can play Hero Teacher. 
  8. Oh, shoot. I'm supposed to stay with you.
  9. But what about my gun? It's in my office.
Do you see where I'm going with this? 

My responsibility in a school emergency is not to play the hero and take out the bad guys. My responsibility is to act in loco parentis to keep the students in my care safe. Keeping them safe doesn't mean shoving them in a closet and running off to fight in a damned war. My duty to the kids in my classroom is to ensure that they stay calm, that anyone who may panic is helped, and to stay with those kids until it is safe to evacuate them.

So please, World, please stop the incredibly stupid "let's arm teachers!" argument. Also: it won't help school discipline to have guns on campus. Just don't go there.

Anyway, today was fine. We were never in any major danger, and I'm grateful to local law enforcement for advising our admin team. Working together in a community is what keeps us all safe. In the end, it was just a brief shelter in place that barely put a blip on our radar screen...but I never forget, my friends, that someday, it could be the real deal.

No comments: