April 18, 2016: Please see update at the bottom of this post.
When I went to school, we had Fire Drills.
A noisy, but usually exciting affair. The alarm was violently loud. After it went off, scaring us shitless, we would line up beside our desks and dutifully march outside. A quick scan of the exterior of our (brick) school would always reveal the obvious – everything was fine.
Which was always a bit of a letdown.
Teachers would do their headcounts, often while sneaking in a quick cigarette, and then we’d all stream back inside.
Now the drill de jour is the Lockdown Drill, used to prepare the students for a school shooter. It’s a somewhat more involved procedure, with an announcement over the loudspeaker advising teachers and students that there’s, well, a lockdown in effect. The teacher then locks the door, hits the lights, and together with the entire class, huddles in whatever “hiding” spot they think best ensures a cover from an active shooter.
This goes on until another announcement advises the lockdown was a drill, and is over.
Yesterday my kid’s school had a Lockdown Drill. So he was a bit confused when today they were advised of another lockdown.
“Why are having another drill?” confused children asked the teacher.
“Uh, well, this isn’t a drill,” she replied.
Aaaaaaaaand you can imagine how that went down in a room full of kids trained to believe lockdowns were about protecting them from being shot.
In a flash the lights were off and the doors locked. There weren’t many kids in the classroom at the time, so they all, with the teacher, huddled under the teacher’s desk.
My son was on the verge of throwing up. Some kids were crying. Others were taking inventory of items within arms-length that could be used to throw at the shooter when he or she broke down their door.
“The policeman at the last drill told us to do what we had to do to defend ourselves,” explained my son, mildly irritated as to why I wasn’t comprehending that simple fact.
Under the desk, a whispered discussion apparently broke out between students on how they hoped whoever it was had a knife, as opposed to a “long gun” which would have greater “range”.
They crouched in the dark, hiding, and waiting.
Then they heard the sirens. That had never happened during a drill. Getting closer and closer, a few kids whimpered as the sirens got louder, until they were just outside the school.
The silence in the school was broken by a sudden burst of boots running up and down stairs, and in the halls and rooms over their head. There was shouting and banging, more running.
Can you imagine?
These kids were hunkered down, experiencing a lockdown that was clearly not a drill – a lockdown that, in these kids minds, was about saving them from a killer running rampant in their school.
And then things got quiet again, and an announcement crackled over the loudspeaker – the lockdown was over.
The kids emerged, obviously relieved, and the buzz in the school resumed as lights went back on, doors opened and a bunch of kids ran for the bathroom.
A Grade 7 girl had fainted.
In the note I received, the reason for the school lockdown was to ensure students didn’t get in the way of emergency responders.
Are you f**king kidding me?
Teachers and students spent agonizing minutes thinking they were potentially about to die, so MD Ambulance wouldn’t get tripped up on their way to tending a preteen girl with period cramps? (Or whatever – she’s fine, said the bulletin.)
I love my kid’s school, and its teachers and administration. But this is ridiculous.
It’s the byproduct of an environment that has jumped the shark from prudent, to outright petrified.
The “lockdown” policy is driven by the Saskatoon Public School Division, as it would be across the province. The Saskatchewan Education Act dictates that safety of students is the responsibility of each division, which is fine.
A 2013 audit of the physical safety of school children was conducted by the Province of Saskatchewan on two Regina school divisions, under the guise of creating recommendations for the province.
One of those recommendations was that schools “set requirements for safety training to ensure an adequate number of staff are trained in the event of an emergency situation”.
If teachers cant keep control of their students long enough for EMTs to attend to one child, I’d say more training might be necessary.
More likely is that someone in my kid’s school panicked and called the lockdown – but that doesn’t explain why it wasn’t called off. It was overkill.
Recently I told my son that we were traveling to London and Paris this fall, expecting he’d be thrilled. Instead, he went pale and his face registered fear.
“But mom,” he said. “What about terrorists.”
I am NOT raising my kids in this world to be terrified, whether at school or abroad. Yet that’s exactly what’s happening.
The Ministry of Education needs to take a look at the standards for instilling levels of fear in our children.
Really, it should be a learning mandate – how not to be afraid.
April 18th update: I spoke with the principal today. While I don’t want to put words in his mouth, I think it’s safe to say that what went down will not happen again, nor is it the standard.
Look, I get it. Teachers are people too, they’re not perfect, and we certainly appreciate the work they do every day. My concern remains with the concept of the lockdown – both the drill and the criteria for implementation.
It seems I’m not alone. Just last month another parent addressed the Saskatoon Public School board with his concerns about lockdowns. I’m going to try and track him down, and I’m going to be doing the same at the school board meeting in May.
I hope the media picks up on this one, to put the pressure on administrators to rethink it through. A more sensible drill policy is required – one that strikes the balance between keeping our kids safe, and forcing them into a theatre of terror under the guise of doing so.