emergency alarmGrade Expectations is a weekly look at education from a parent’s perspective. We’ll talk special needs, gifted & talented, and everything in between.

We all know that our children’s schools have an emergency protocol. It’s not just the fire drills where everyone stands around whispering on the playground. Not just the tornado drills where you have to bend down with your butt in the air and hands covering your neck. There’s another emergency protocol. It’s what happens if a child goes missing. Or if a suspicious person is hanging around the playground. This is the emergency protocol for a human threat, not a natural one. And that’s the kind of emergency protocol my daughter’s school had to put into place last week.

In what became the most terrifying afternoon of my adult life, my husband and I sat helpless as our daughter and my mother sat holed up in their classrooms and closets, as far away from the windows as possible. We sat by as buses with afternoon pre-k students were re-routed to other schools. We held our breath as parents were turned away while trying to drop off or pick up students. We did a whole lot of nothing that afternoon. And yet at the end of it, I was exhausted.

Last week, four men in my hometown robbed a gun store. They stole multiple weapons and injured two customers, though thankfully no one died in the altercation. As the group of men sped away from the store, they crashed into another car in the middle of an intersection just a few blocks from my daughter’s school. Three of the suspects were taken into custody immediately. One suspect escaped on foot, and he took at least one of the stolen weapons with him.

It was at this point that local police let the school know that an armed man was running from the law just blocks away from where kindergartners were happily playing on the playground for recess.

Our school, I have to say, responded immediately and with all the caution that the situation deserved. Students were brought inside and kept in a save place. Teachers who had gone out to lunch were called and told to meet re-routed pre-k students at other schools. My mother was locked in a small conference room, as no one is allowed to open the doors to their rooms once an emergency lockdown is in effect. And parents were sent an immediate emailing explaining the situation and that students were not able to come or go until the coast was clear. 

I don’t know what would possess a person to run into a school with a gun as they’re trying to escape the law. At the same time, I don’t know what would possess a person to rob a gun store, so I’m not going to be able to explain these criminals’ point of views. However, I am thankful that my daughter and her classmates were kept safe and away from the dangerous situation playing out in their neighborhood.

For what it’s worth, the 18-year-old boy turned himself in to the police the next day. He did not hurt anyone while trying to escape the police that day. But there was absolutely no way for anyone to know what might happen in a situation like that.

I’ve always known that the emergency lockdown procedure was there. I’ve even helped out during the drills a couple times while volunteering at the school. I’ve never, ever considered that my daughter and her classmates might actually need to put the drill in place for hours on end.

I’ve always felt very involved and connected to my daughter’s school. My mother teachers there. I know every employee by name. I’ve spent more than a couple summer days laying around my parent’s pool with most of them. I volunteer. I send frequent emails to my daughter’s teachers.

Last week, it didn’t matter how close I felt to that school. It didn’t matter how many names I knew. I realized the level of trust I need to have in my child’s teachers. I realized just how out-of-my-hands everything is once she steps on the bus. At that point, even the most basic act of keeping my little girl safe falls to someone else, someone other than me. The helplessness I felt that day was terrifying, but also a bit of a wake up call.

We were lucky last week. None of the students were injured. Everyone was kept safe from a very real threat. The protocol was effective and the students were fine. In fact, since the incident happened the day after Veteran’s Day, plenty of students remarked that they weren’t scared at all. They had just learned all about the brave men and women who keep our country safe. They all knew that soldiers, or other heroes like police officers and firefighters, wouldn’t let a thing happen to them. For the kids, the entire mess seemed like a bit of a game. Unfortunately, the parents waiting for the “All Clear” weren’t able to be quite so calm and trusting. We could just be happy that everything turned out okay.

(Photo:  Malcolm Leman/Shutterstock)