post by Elizabeth Lacy-Schoenberger, member of The Educator Collaborative
“Attention students, teachers, and staff. We are now in immediate hard lockdown mode. Please follow all procedures regarding hard lockdown immediately. Repeat, we are in hard lockdown.”
1:25p.m., my most challenging block of the day was three minutes away from ending. I was counting down the minutes until I would finally be on prep for the first time all day—I really had to pee!
I wordlessly directed all the students to move silently to the corner of the room and crawl under the tables. I grabbed the kid from the hall that I had just sent out to get water. I double-checked that my door was locked and shoved it closed. I pulled down the window shade and shut off the lights. I went to the other door on the opposite side of the room and double-checked it was locked (Of course it was, it always is—it isn’t considered safe to have more than one doorway accessible). I walked to the corner of the room and scanned my students. Eight days away from moving on to high school, their awkward almost-ninth-grade adolescent bodies folded as dutifully as possible underneath the too-small spaces of furniture.
We began The Wait.
They were remarkably well behaved, given the time of year and time of day. The student I had pulled back out of the hall tried valiantly to control his hiccups, holding his breath and hiding his head inside his shirt. After four painstaking minutes punctuated by hic-hup-inhale-exhale, I grabbed my seltzer water off my desk (I had been looking forward to the cold refreshing fizz on my prep) and gave it to him. He gulped it down; the hiccups stopped.
Six more minutes passed. An unfortunate fart punctuated the silence, followed by a few uncontrollable giggles, then a hiss of, “Shut up, I’m not tryin’ to die ‘cuz you can’t hold your gas.” The statement hung in the air; silence fell again.
Twenty-two minutes in, a student tugged on my skirt bottom. Looking up from his crouched position, he whispered, “This is real, right? I mean, we’ve been here a really long time. This is no drill.” I held a finger to my lips and shrugged. I tiptoed over to check my email, but there were no updates, nothing to shed light on what was going on. I closed my laptop, aware of the small amount of glow it was emitting, unsure if that glow would carry under the door and into the hall.
I scanned my room again, and began to try and think like a professional, trained responder. I took note of the tall filing cabinet near the door, and wondered how hard it would be to drag it in front of the door’s glass window. It was just large enough to be an extra layer of protection against a spray of bullets. My eyes shifted back and forth between the two classroom doors, divided by the strange corner angle of my room…if we heard noise outside one door, should we run out through the other door and down the hall? We’re told to crouch and hide in place, but aren’t the odds of survival better if you run for it?
I ran my hands across my big round belly. At 29 weeks pregnant, I wondered: How much of a hero was I expected to be? If I had to make a choice between protecting the life of my unborn child and shielding other’s innocent children, what should I do? What would I do? And if I felt called to play the hero, at five foot zero inches tall, how much of a line of defense was I really?
I shook my head at the thought that me having a gun would change any of how I felt in this situation. Police officers devote their time to training and thinking about these things. I spend my professional hours reading essays and prepping carefully crafted text dependent questions. Who in the world am I to be faced with that kind of ask?
The minutes continued to tick, and my head continued to play through all the various scenarios that could have lead to this moment, and all the things that might be yet to come. The students shifted uncomfortably from beneath the Formica and MDF wood. A few put their hoodies up over their heads and leaned on one another, attempting to go to sleep. Two played a fierce but silent game of paper-rock-scissors. One girl braided and unbraided the same lock of hair, over and over and over again.
2:05p.m., another announcement. “Students, teachers, and staff, listen very carefully. We will be shifting from hard lockdown to soft lockdown. Repeat, we are shifting from hard lockdown to soft lockdown. You may turn on the lights and resume classroom activities. You must keep doors locked and remain in place.” Forty minutes of silence and crouching later, everyone emerged, stretching and blinking rapidly against the returning light.
We had been in my classroom together since 12:30p.m. Students typically dismiss for the day at 2:15p.m., but it was clear this wasn’t going to happen. This block of students was my special education/inclusion class. Being still and quiet and contained for long periods of time is not a strength for many of them. By now I desperately, painfully needed to go to the restroom. So did many of the students. They were not interested in doing another literacy lesson. I wasn’t either. I felt exhausted, and stressed, and a million other feelings I’m not sure I know how to put into words.
I peeked my head out the door, and a staff member patrolling the hall gesticulated wildly at me. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“I really, really have to go to the bathroom.”
“You can’t hold it? We’re in the middle of something here. I’m supposed to keep everyone in their rooms.”
“No, the pregnant lady who has been holding it since 12:30 can’t keep holding it. I have to go.” The look he gave me was not one of understanding or compassion, but I was allowed to run down the hall to the toilet. I wonder if my name will now be written up in some report.
I let the students clean out their binders, and we had a paper ball shooting competition with bragging rights going to the student who got the most papers in the trash.
2:48p.m., another announcement: “Students, please stop calling your parents and telling them to come get you. We cannot allow them in the building, and we cannot allow you to leave. You are just adding to the chaos, so please stop. Teachers, please do not let students call their parents to come get them. We are keeping parents updated about the situation.”
The minutes ticked away. I let the students take out laptops and play the few games the school district hasn’t blocked online. Students tried to mess with me by holding their empty phone cases up to their ears and saying, “Hello? Mom? Can you come get me?”
3:45p.m., another announcement: “Attention students, teachers, and staff. We are going to begin moving students into the downstairs common areas. Please wait until a safety official comes to your room to escort you and your class.”
I moved with my students to the auditorium and waited some more. My gestational diabetes schedule dictates I have a high-protein, low-carb snack two hours after each meal. We were approaching hour four since lunch. I hadn’t packed any afternoon snacks, thinking I was heading straight home after work that day. No amount of lollipops the guidance counselors were handing out to try and keep kids calm were going to help me.
4:45p.m., one set of outside doors were unlocked, and teachers were instructed to escort students out in small groups and put them directly onto buses to go home. No one was allowed to walk home or leave the small bus loading area. We urgently shooed kids onto busses. Parents began trying to flood their way indoors, but police officers pushed them firmly towards the front doors to sign in and wait for their children. I looked around, trying to see anything suspicious that could have justified all this disruption to our world. I tried hard to not allow my heart beat to quicken. I would not fear the unknown. I would not give in to the craziness. It was a beautiful early summer day.
5:02p.m., all the students that had been under my supervision since 12:30p.m. were released from my responsibility. I headed back inside the building to pack up and head home.
No one was hurt or killed that day. Therefore, it is what is considered another successful day in the current world of education. The full details of what sent our entire school district into emergency security procedures are still unfolding, but hey, all’s-well-that-ends-well?