School Lock Downs: Everything Is Not Fine

by Noreen Clarke
Originally Published: 
school lock down
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It was a regular day. I had just run out to pick up a late lunch and rushed back to work to see if I could catch up on some papers, eat and still manage to squeeze in a bathroom break before my middle school students came for my next class.

I used my staff access pass, and the door automatically opened. I walked up the quiet staircase knowing that I only had about 15 minutes before classes would change and the calm would transform into the usual hectic halls of a middle school. I walked to my room and got busy.

A glance at the clock alerted me I had better grab that bathroom break before it was too late. I went down the hall to the teachers’ restroom. The door was locked. That seemed unusual, but I figured maybe there was something broken that needed to be fixed. Without hesitation, I turned away and thought to head downstairs to use another restroom. I had only taken a few steps when I heard our vice principal’s voice over the PA system: “Remember, everyone please stay in your rooms.” It was a calm voice, very reassuring. So, I went to my classroom, and there, after only a few minutes, all the dots seemed to connect. The time for classes to change had come and gone. There were no kids in the hallway. Everything was quiet. The bathroom doors were locked, and that voice over the PA—I had just returned to work in the middle of a school lock down.

We’ve had fire drills for years, but it’s only since Sandy Hook that we’ve had lock downs where the entire student body practices hiding in case there is an intruder, or as some instructional videos call it, a “live shooter.” Every time we have one, it’s hard to breathe—every time. You know it’s a drill, but you always wonder, what if? And now, since there have been so many mass shootings, it doesn’t take long for your mind to bring you to the worst-case scenario. So, I usually hide with my students, stay calm, and also plan on what I would do to save them if it’s not just a drill, but the real thing.

Today, I have no students with me. Now that I’m aware we’re in a lock down, I immediately lock my classroom doors and go to my hiding spot—alone. I’m close enough to see a computer from my spot and glance at it from time to time. Also, I can peek out the window to the front of our building while still in hiding. It’s then, on the computer screen, that I see an email from our principal in my inbox. It says, “Remember, only open the door if they use our code word.” Chills. I glance out the window and see our police force heading into the building with big rifles drawn. They are ready to search for an intruder, and we are not to open the door unless they say the code word. This is not a drill.

Then, the next email comes. It says that not only is our middle school under lock down, but so is the nearby elementary school—the same one that my son attends. That’s when it hits me: My 5-year-old son is under lock down two blocks away from me, and there is nothing I can do. I jump on the computer and email my family, hands shaking as my fingers quickly move across the keyboard. I tell them that I’m not sure what’s going on, but that I’m scared.

Next, I hear helicopters overhead. I hear someone rattle the door in an attempt to get in. I hear them enter the room and only say “police”—no code word. My heart sinks. I try to see who it is from my hiding spot, but I’m also afraid to move. What do I say? He never used the code word. Do I say anything? Stay hidden? Come out and possibly startle him? I can see him as he walks by. He circles again, checking the area more than once. I can see his rifle in his hand, and I shudder. All I can think of is, my little boy is going through the same thing just a around the corner. I step out, and he sees me—standing there alone and crying. The officer tells me that I’ve picked a good hiding spot and to go back and hide. This only makes me cower in a corner and sob. The officers are still looking. It’s not safe, not yet. What feels like forever is less than an hour.

When the search is over, there is an announcement that everything is fine: “All clear” comes over the PA. Both buildings have been checked out, and everyone is safe. There was a scare, but no real threat. I am numb. There are about 15 minutes before the kids switch classes, and I have to pull myself together for them. I want to grab my things, run to the elementary school, and yank my son out early and just hug him. I don’t. I know that the best thing for him right now is to be with his class and his teacher so he can stay in his routine and have some normalcy. I know that his teacher will talk to them and put their minds at ease. She’ll probably even engage them in an activity that will keep them focused on something other than hiding in a bathroom for close to an hour.

When the day is over, I run to meet my son. I fight back my tears and try to put on an “everything is fine” face for him. I see him. He is smiling. The first thing he wants to do is play on the playground. No problem. I breathe.

But I need to see his teacher. To make sure she’s OK. To thank her, because I know exactly what she just went through and she did it for my kid, as well as 20 others. And I have no words to thank her for that. The gratitude is too much for words.

Everything is not fine.

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