Remember when – before school safety drills?

Almost twenty years ago, it was. I taught in our neighborhood school, a relatively small building with a student population of, oh, maybe 300, max. In a tornado drill, we could fit the entire student body in the maintenance engineer’s basement storage room. In a fire drill, we could exit the building quickly and get back inside before the lessons were forgotten.

Then one day the fire alarm went off – in the rain, and during the lunch period. No one knew who pulled it or if something had malfunctioned. There was chaos at first as kids tried to figure out which exit was closest. Then there were moans and groans of “It’s raining! Hard! I’m getting soaked!” Principal and police liaison swept the school as quickly as they could and sent us all back inside.

And then the alarm went off again. This time, teachers grabbed their umbrellas and cell phones. We checked in with each other, brought the kids around to the same side of the building, and actually took shelter in a neighbor’s (thankfully large) garage. And then, someone started to whisper.

“Someone could have shot us all. Like in Arkansas, right?” “Or in Colorado. That place with the kids in trench coats.” Jonesboro, Arkansas: March, 1998. Littleton, Colorado: April, 1999. Suddenly the cold spring rain didn’t matter quite as much. All of us, teachers and students, were cold and wet and scared – but no one was shooting. It was okay, sorta kinda okay.

Today, many years later, schools often drill during the lunch period “just in case.” Many schools have an alternate location set up in case of rain or bitter cold. All of these are good signs, signs of progress in keep our students safe.

Today, many years later, we drill to keep kids away from a potential active shooter. We did lock down drills for years. Now we conduct ALICE drills – Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.  No matter what the name, schools practice getting students out of the way when someone comes into a school with a weapon. No matter what the safety procedure, children and adults still get killed.

And this, my friends, is not good. Not good at all.

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