Guestblogger Kori Milroy teaches grammar school science. She participated in New Voice Strategies’ VIVA Chicago Idea Exchange and is coauthor of the 2011 collaborative report “Time, Teachers, and Tomorrow’s Schools.”
Like most schools in America, my school conducted a lockdown drill shortly after the Sandy Hook massacre last year. During the drill, we were instructed to lock our classroom doors, turn out the lights, pull the window shades, and hide our students out of sight as much as possible. The goal was to make the classroom look empty, as if the students were away at another class.
In my classroom, the best place to hide is inside my storage closet. It is windowless but well lit, and has its own intercom and phone line. Unfortunately, it is only large enough to hold about half of my fourth grade class.
The next best place to hide is against an interior wall. If you stand up straight and don’t let your feet poke out too far, you are out of the sightlines of the hallway windows. The wall is just long enough to accommodate the other half of the class, standing shoulder to shoulder.
Before the drill, teachers and administrators talked to the children about what was going to happen. We stressed that we were practicing how to stay safe at school and that, just like when we have fire drills, nothing bad was really happening.
Despite my reassurances, a few children became distressed when they found out they were in the “Wall Group” and not the “Closet Group.” They were very aware of the Sandy Hook shooting from the news. “It’s not fair. They will have a better chance than us,” said one boy. A girl worried about tripping or not making it to the closet on time. “What if he sees me?” she asked. I tried to comfort her. “There is no ‘he,’ honey. This is just for practice and nothing bad is really happening. I will be here the entire time. Remember, this is just like a fire drill. It will only take a few minutes.”
The drill was over quickly and my students performed admirably. Most importantly, everyone remained hidden. But I am left with a nagging concern. Are lockdown drills really the best we have to offer our children in terms of protection from an armed intruder? It has been almost one year since Sandy Hook. Shouldn’t we have seen additional security improvements by now?
Unfortunately, while teachers and school administrators have been busy conducting drills and comforting anxious children, our national lawmakers have been busy doing absolutely nothing about this problem. This past spring, the United States Congress absurdly voted down a perfectly reasonable (and popular) background check proposal that also included the establishment of a commission to study school safety. The legislation would have improved mental health reporting to the background check system, which everyone agrees needs to happen. That Congress couldn’t get enough votes for these simple safety measures is beyond disgraceful. Their actions told American students, teachers, and parents, “You are on your own. Good luck.”
A glimmer of hope exists in President Obama’s “Executive Orders to Reduce Gun Violence.” One order has helped create detailed emergency planning guides for schools, and another helps schools hire resource officers. But this isn’t enough. We need panic buttons and bulletproof exterior doors. We need universal background checks. We need to find a way to prevent the dangerously mentally ill from purchasing or otherwise obtaining guns.
Congress’ inaction has abandoned America’s school children in an increasingly gun-infested society, where preventable mass shootings like the one last week at the Navy Yard in DC, are now commonplace. This is simply unacceptable. It is time for teachers and parents to stand up for our children’s safety, and demand action on school safety and security.