I live in the St. Louis, MO area. Yesterday a reporter from one of the local news stations did a little “investigative” reporting. This ended up in Kirkwood High School going into a lockdown. Here’s the story from the St. Louis Post Dispatch: KSDK Reporter working on school safety story… and here is the story KSDK released. Needless to say this was all over the news here in town. The reactions to this story have been vehement from people blaming the school to those blaming KSDK. I hadn’t planned on commenting and still don’t because there is just so much to this story however we had our intruder drill here at school today, I’m in an elementary school, our assistant principal made an announcement ahead of time to assure our students that this was just a drill, just practice. I was fortunate not to have a class in my room at the time, yet sitting in the dark in the silence is eerie and even knowing that it’s a drill there’s still a jump when someone wriggles your door handle to be sure it’s locked.
I can’t imagine how those high schoolers and their teachers felt knowing this was an intruder. Though considering social media I don’t really have to because students there were posting and texting while under lockdown.
One of the things mentioned by the safety expert in the KSDK news report mentions is training staff and practicing with students. Every building I’ve ever taught in has had intruder drills, we talk through procedures with our students. My first year teaching was the year after the Columbine shootings. When we had our first intruder drill of the year my sixth graders seemed to think it was a time to play and joke around. I did not honestly want to scare them but I wanted to try to make it clear to them how serious this was. I reminded them that the point was to be silent so any intruder thought the classroom was empty and would walk on by. It was scary, sitting in the room, in the dark with a class full of kids, the handle on the door jiggles and you honestly can’t help but jump, you know it’s not real but you wait for it to end.
When I was in college I was shocked to have a speaker tell us that if we were ever in our classroom and someone came in with a gun we should stand with our hands at the edge of the desk thumbs tucked under so that if the person started shooting we could use our thumbs to flip up the desk and hide behind it. Just the thought was enough to make me stop and think about what I was choosing to do with my life though not enough to change my mind.
In my last district they arranged for the County Sheriff Department to come in and train us on some intruder procedures. They went room to room checking the set up of our classrooms in relation to the doors, windows, and phone. We were told to always keep our doors locked and simply prop them so we could close them easily without having to step into the hall to lock them, this is the same policy in my current building. The officers then ran us through a practice intruder, they dropped canisters in the hall that made the noise of shot. We were to follow procedures, lock the doors, turn off the lights, and make no sounds. The two other teachers at the end of the hallway and myself simply did not want to be in our rooms alone so we all hovered together in my room. Again we knew this was not a real intruder situation and yet when that “shot” goes off, people are yelling “let me in, let me in” while jiggling the handle and banging on the doors your adrenaline level rises. Finally the person moved away and we relaxed to nearly all be shocked into screaming when someone came around the outside of the building banging on the windows. As frightening as it was I am thankful for that training and wish more schools would do the same.
I have been fortunate to never have been in a building that necessitated a lockdown of any variety and hope it continues that way but I will always be sure I know the procedures and put my students’ safety first as would any teacher.
Parents please take heart in the fact that schools do practice and prepare and if you are concerned about the safety of your child’s school as I saw many comments to that effect after yesterday absolutely do not hesitate to raise those concerns!