Slice of Life: In Case of Emergency, Break Heart

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We had a very sobering staff meeting yesterday, in which two police officers from our town talked to us for an hour about changes in the local and state policy of emergency lock-downs in our school. Our old policy was: lock the door, pull the shades, get in your hiding space, stay quiet. Wait for the police to set you free. During drills, our school seemed like a ghost town.

But now, there is no “policy,” only guidelines, and the main guideline for us teachers is this: if there is an armed intruder in the school, use your best judgement on how to react to protect your students – maybe hide, maybe run, maybe fight. I agree that having more options, in the event of something nearly impossible to consider (although, we know we need to at least consider it in this day and age), but thinking of the chaos and confusion of those moments is difficult to wrap my head around.

Which is not to say I would not be ready to do any of those options, should it be necessary. Or at least, I hope that I’d be ready. Alternatively, I hope I never find out if that is the case. One of those little doubts in my head is, what is you make the wrong choice about action? What if you run with your students into the problem when you should have stayed put away from the problem? How would you live with yourself after that?

Man, I hate that we live in a society where we even have to have these discussions of armed intruders in schools. The officers gave us an overview of Columbine, and then Virginia Tech, and then Sandy Hook. They even had us listen to some 911 calls, which I sort of wished I had not had to hear, to be frank. They shared the “lessons learned” — about barricading doors, about slowing down the event, about making decisions in the midst of confusion. They brought all of those news stories right back into focus, and I wish that hadn’t had to have been done.

How will we drill for this kind of response, in which every teacher makes their own decision? I don’t even know. All I know is that I left there thinking, In Case of Emergency, Break My Heart…..

Peace (please),

  1. Sobbering slice of life, indeed! I had to watch a movie on all this last year–I’m sure its coming up next year. The first LD/LD Code LD red we had last year was for a misnamed “bombthreat.” I was trying to stay calm as they called it a bomb threat…why were we laying down in our classrooms with 35 kids? I’m not sure, either, that I would like all the teachers that I know to do their own thing. Sounds chaotic. Hopefully, it will NEVER come to that. Hold the peace tightly, friend.

  2. Wow! I’m speechless. This brought me back to the moment when I had to walk back into my classroom for the first time after Columbine. I was shaking. The world has changed and this makes me sad…so sad. Thanks for reflecting on this moment. Necessary!

  3. I hate those drills. They make me feel like crying, while I smile and tell a bunch if kids it’s “just like a fire drill!” But it’s not. When I was a kid we had nuclear disaster drills, and they, like these, left me sleepless with worry for several nights after. Can I have some of that peace to hold on to too?

  4. We have a PD day today. Afternoon is a safety workshop. The rumor is that it will be about lockdowns etc. I hope that we would not have to hear those 911 calls. My hope and prayer that none of us will ever had to make those choices of where to hide or where to run to.

  5. We did our first lock-in drill yesterday. That is the drill for a bad guy in the building. We do a lock-out when there is police action in the neighborhood. We do fire drills monthly and earthquake drills occasionally. I’ve been in 3 earthquakes at school. But I’ve never been at a school with a fire or bad guy. I wonder about our priorities sometimes.

  6. Very pointing piece. You share a sentiment I’ve had expressed to me by many of my teacher friends. The trainings these days are almost too much. I can’t imagine hearing the 911 calls. Columbine happened my first year teaching and I remember hearing the death count while driving home. I had to pull off to the side of the road and cry. Getting through the next few days with all the questions and fear and sadness from my high school students was a tough a few days emotionally as I ever had in the class. I hope to not need to relive that moment in a training sometime in my future.

  7. I hesitate to say this and I think this might come off as hyper-cynical and I might be wrong, but I am going to say it anyway because I think the police are putting you in a very bad place. It occurs to me that they might have moved to a more general policy not necessarily because of what happened elsewhere, but as a way to cover their own asses should something bad happen. Whereas before they told you to hunker down and wait they were responsible if something bad took place as a result of that advice. Now they put the onus on you to decide. And that decision is based on what? Usually what you have is bad information when the school sounds the alarm. Or no information. So the authorities make you decide. It is probably the least bad policy overall, but you are going to bear the brunt of personal and professional responsibility not the police. This is not fair and might have profound and lifelong effects on teachers who make the wrong decision. I don’t know your administration, but it seems to me that what they are doing is the definition of feckless or worse, willing to throw you under the bus. I understand if you want to expunge this comment. This is a public blog, but I can’t stand by and say nothing in the face of what is pretty irresponsible behavior up the hierarchy. What is your union saying about this?

  8. I’m from Denver, that Columbine place, & the theater shootings-changed us all forever. I’m sad that you had to hear and be in the meetings that discussed so much, with seemingly little resolution. Yet, how can there be a plan when each time, it’s been a different scenario? I really do believe that we will all do what we can if the unthinkable happens, & in the meantime, do the practice, & tell the kids it’s like a fire drill, hoping they believe us.

  9. We had that talk from our local police, too. We also listened to the 911 calls. I could cry right now, just thinking about it.

    My five year old daughter told me they practiced how to sit in the corner of a room and be quiet if there was ever an emergency. Hearing those words – entertaining that thought even for a split second – makes my stomach hurt.

    Loved your ending – very, very powerful.

  10. I also worry about the effect of all this on our kids. Every time we go into “practice lockdown” I see the fear in their eyes. We live in a society where it could be you next…and that is a terrible way to grow up.
    PS. Those 911 calls seem like a gratuitous inclusion – what purpose did they really serve?

  11. The only drill I remember practicing as a kid was a fire drill. As a teacher I practiced for intruder drills (We had different names for each one depending on the kind of intrusion), shelter drills, and fire drills. I think we also practiced for bomb scares. My gosh. So many drills and scary things to think about. I’m glad I never had to put any of these plans into action. It’s so scary to think about isn’t it. But I know it’s better to be scared and prepared than naive and unprepared.

  12. Teachers have so many responsibilities, and I hadn’t thought enough about the impact these sorts of things have on us as individuals. Thank you for prompting me to ponder something so important.

  13. Wow! Your entire post was so emotional, but your closing remark, “In Case of Emergency, Break My Heart”, unleashed the tears! That is such a poignant catch phrase for this day and age.

  14. This sounds a lot like the training we went through last year. The videos and phone calls haunted me for a while following the training day. It is scary. It would be scary. And yet, we have to somehow be ready for the unthinkable, something no one can be ready for. I hope neither of us ever has to make those tough decisions in the face of disaster.

  15. Kevin, moments like you experienced make me wonder what would really happen in an emergency when we are left to our own decision making process. Thoughts of another incident in schools is such a scary prospect.

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