Friday, November 09, 2007

Lock Down

The first bell has rung and chilly, frisky kids are pouring in through the doors at the end of the hall. I'm standing at my classroom door waiting for the first arrivals to file in. On a cold morning like this, the wait isn't long ... no one wants to hang outside in the chill.

I've only been here 15 minutes, but already I've had to drop back and punt. The Powerpoint presentation I worked on late yesterday isn't going to happen since the county techies "fixed" my laptop computer and now I can't log on. A quick shuffle of activities, and a trip to the copy machine has saved my lesson for Marine Science.

This is my quietest class of the day, a group of "model" students who any teacher would love. I have to encourage them to talk when they are working on group projects. They are so different from the boisterous second period Marine Science students.

As the tardy bell rings, another staff member leans in close and says, "FYI, there's going to be a total lock down in just a few minutes."


Lockdowns are serious business, but mostly they occur as drills and as a chance for the Sheriff's drug dog to walk down the hall sniffing lockers. These lockdown drills are usually short ... 15 minutes or so.

No lockdown announcement yet, so I go about my teaching. For our bellringer activity, we're doing a review of that amazing periodic table of the elements, before we launch into the essentials of Marine Ecology, our current topic.

We had just figured out how many protons, electrons, and neutrons are in an atom of Barium ...(hey, what do you do with a dead science teacher? BARIUM! wacka wacka) ... when the intercom announced a total lockdown.

I walk to the door, lock it, and do a quick scan of the hall for any stray kids. In a lockdown, you snatch any kid not in a room and bring them into yours until the emergency is over. The halls are clear, so I close the door, leaving the agreed upon signal exposed so Law Enforcement in the hallway will know we are okay and secure.

The kids are buzzing nervously as I turn off the lights, close the one open window shade, and return to the front of the class.

"Is this a drill?"

"I don't know."

"What's going on?"

"I don't know, but you are safe in here."

"Is this going to last all period?"

"I don't know, but you're in here for the duration."

"What are we going to do?"

"We're going to learn some more about Marine Ecology."

"In the dark?"

"Yes, in the dark ... it's not that dark in here you know."

"What if we have to go to the bathroom?"

"Well, you can't go anywhere during a lockdown, so think of something else."

"But the aquarium is making that trickling sound."

"Just don't think about water."

"But, it's Marine Science class."

"Well, think about the sand dunes."

"Now I'm thirsty, can we get a drink of water?"

"No, you can live 3 days without water. If we are in here for 3 days, I will let you go for water."

"If you can't go to the restroom, Mr. FC's definitely not going to let you go for water ... jeez."


" What if someone breaks down the door?"

"Have you seen that door?"

"But what if?"

"If someone starts pounding on the door, we'll move into the storage room."

The science storage room is a large walk in closet at the rear of my classroom, with a locking door, and it's big enough for a full class to squeeze in concert front row style.


"Yes, that's our plan B"

"Will we all fit?"

"Yes, but it will be cozy."

"What if they break that door down?"

"Do you think we are under attack by the HULK?"

"Noooo ..."

"Okay, then lets get busy on this research assignment ..."

As the kids work on what is essentially a reading assignment, I grade some papers, and help some seekers get closer to the answers with a few tips ... all the while noticing that this is not a drill or a drug dog lockdown. It's going much longer than drills go. Eventually the time for first period to be over comes and goes. The kids notice and I hear them wondering what's going on.

"Hey, you guys can read, finish other work, or quietly chill at this point. We're now into second period, but you're stuck with me until the lockdown ends."

Most have completed my assignment anyway. Soon, some are reading, some chatting quietly, and a few come up to talk to me.

A long haired, tall, gentle, soft spoken boy comes up to my desk, where I am uncharacteristically sitting. I generally don't sit on my job except for lunch and part of my planning period. This kid is smart and always asks probing questions during lessons, the kind that often make me dig deep and think myself.
He's often absent, always tardy, but a great addition to the class.

Quietly, he says,

"So, what would you do if a shooter came through the door Mr. FC?"

"I'm responsible for you guys, that's a tough question (as usual). Is he just armed, or is he shooting?"


"Then it's personal decision time, ... you know what I mean?"

I'm waltzing around and avoiding saying, "We fight like there's no tomorrow." That is not official school board policy and I am at work after all.


I switch the conversation back to the new fish in the aquarium and an upcoming project he's interested in.

During a lockdown, you don't open the locked classroom door for anything. The good guys will have keys is the assumption.

Sometime halfway thorough second period a key rattles in my door and an administrator comes in for two kids. He's going to escort them to the front office where they are being checked out. No information is shared, so I'm as clueless as the kids as to the cause of the lockdown.

Outside in the community, the coconut telegraph is kicking in and worried parents are beginning to pour in to extract their children. Rumors fly and the information (mostly false and over dramatized) spreads exponentially. In the next few hours, almost 200 kids are checked out. Even though the lockdown ends after second period, parents continue to show up and the intercom comes on again and again ...

" Mr. FC, please send Sally Student to the office for check out at this time."

The rest of the day is an oddly quiet event. Classes continued to shrink as the day rolled on and more parents pulled out their kids to the safer (?) world outside.

When it's over, we have a short faculty meeting regarding the lockdown. There is some congratulations as we all seemed to have handled it well, just as we had practiced during drills.

It turns out, one of our students had ran away from home with weapons, but never came near the school. There was no sign of intent to come there either, the school administrators were just erring on the side of caution.

Good decision.

Just another day in the chalkboard (dry erase board now) jungle ...


Cathy S. said...

Whoa. Having been a parent having a metldown on the outside of the school during such a situation, it was good to know what was going on inside. Those kids are blessed to have someone like you on their side.

Anonymous said...

Glad this turned out okay! What a difference. Back in the day my ex would drive his truck to school, gun (probably loaded) in rear window gun rack, truck unlocked (probably with keys in ignition)and no one gave it a second thought! Guns were for hunting, not people! What has happened? Times have sure changed!

Thunder Dave said...

It is a messed up world when we have to design our schools as fortresses to prtect our children!
I'm sorry to hear that you have to go through those types of drills and events!

Although I do need to remind folks that this sort of thing isn';t entirely new. I grew up in the city many years ago and I remember an incident when the police, and probably FBI, came to our school and arrested 3 to 4 students who had busted out the walls of several lockers that were side-by-side, and were storing stolen weapons in there! The stash was a mixture of shotguns, semi-auto rifles, and hand guns.

What do we do to change this??????

Laura said...

My hub's company often builds projects for courthouses, where the desks and doors and other maerials are made with Kevlar.

Some days, I wonder if the schools will start using it too.
Probably not, but events like this make you wonder if they should have various safe rooms throughout a campus with at least a door made from the Kevlar!

Last October, police here arrested the mother of an "unhappy" teenager because she bought her son a .22-caliber handgun, a .22-caliber rifle and a 9mm semiautomatic rifle with a laser scope. He was plotting a school attack as well.

How did we get to the point in our society where life has become so cheap???

Mark said...

I don't know whether things have changed that much. It's just that today there are many, many more people in the world and that many more chances for a wacko to go wacky. And when something happens in Finland, you hear about it minutes after it happens.

dani813 said...

I wish that this wasn't the reality now for our children and teachers. But I had to chuckle about all the what if's. I thought it was just the little ones who did that. Glad the day ended okay for every one and that the what if's were just that.

threecollie said...

Thank you for being such a caring, reasoning, and thoughtful person. Pure Florida kids are lucky; the world needs about a billion more teachers like you so we don't have to talk about school and lock down in the same sentence.I
Sad that kids have to be afraid in school and parents have to wonder every day when they put their little hostages to fortune on the bus,
"Will everything be okay... Or will it be our school this time? Is that strange boy that has been stalking a daughter disturbed or just lonely? Is it three o'clock yet?"
What a world!

kathy a. said...

what a day.... i'm glad the school took the precaution. going on with the lesson must have sent a very reassuring message to the kids!

roger said...

wow. modern life sometimes sucks.

Suze said...

That's funny - we just had a county wide lockdown here in Broward County on Wednesday. A convicted felon with 2 life sentences escaped from a vehicle he was being transported to court in - and shot the driver and escaped. I couldn't go to work until the lockdown was over - there was no picking students up by parents at all. No one was allowed to enter or leave school grounds at all. What a world, eh?

robin andrea said...

Wow, fc, that sounds pretty intense for everyone. I was in high school during the late 60s, but I don't remember there being any weapons scares. It wasn't a simpler time, but I don't think weapons were as readily available. The combination of youth and guns is a very scary proposition.

kathy a. said...

the combo of kids and guns is really scary. [i know a lot of folks in more rural areas have guns, and a lot of their kids learn to use them responsibly; i'm a city girl, and guns are bad news indeed in most areas i've lived.]

the one gun incident i remember growing up was when a 9th grade classmate and his best friend were playing with dad's pistol. classmate shot and almost killed his best friend.

the thought of a troubled kid with weapons is seriously upsetting. the city right next to my town has a lot of poverty, a lot of kids who don't have what they need to anchor their lives, a lot of shootings. it's so easy to pull the trigger; so impossible to pull the bullet back. so lucky, on many occasions, that inexperienced gunmen tend to have bad aim and shoot things that don't bleed.

i think that while it is easy for teens to imagine they are invested with power when they have a weapon, it is hard for them to imagine the horror and grief that can flow from one bad decision [or reflex] in one bad second.

Sharon said...

Wow. That had me on the edge of my seat, and I realized I wasn't breathing by the time I got to the end. It's such a sad, strange world and you are SO underpaid, my friend. :)

Sharon said...

Oh, and I'm sure HT remembers what happened at school a few months back...that disturbed boy was a friend of my daughter' was her best friend's "Boyfriend". Terrifying when things are going on that close to home. I kept all three of them home for a couple of days. He threatened to shoot 100 students.

SwampAngel65 said...

They made a good decision locking down the school. It's crazy how parents start showing up to pull their kids out before they even know they whole story.

kathy a. said...

oh, sharon...

Hurricane Teen said...

This reminds me of when we had a lockdown when I was in elementary school. There was a gunshot across the road from the school, and everybody was nervous. It actually turned out that one of my (our?) cousins shot a dairy cow that was not "carrying her weight." So, yes, my (our?) family was responsible for a school lockdown because of our Cracker ways. ha ha.

Floridacracker said...

Cathy S,
I know it from both sides and neither is easy. I don't fault those parents wanting to be with their kids, but we do our best to keep them safe.

Lightnin and Thunder,
No answer for you, it would be easy to blame society now vs. then, but that is too general to be useful.
Mark has a point, we do hear about everything now adays, which just adds to the feeling of dread.

I like the concept of safe rooms in buildings. In a lot of homes, all it would take is a stronger door on the most secure room in the house.

I often think that too. The world often seems so depressing because we are overloaded with everything negative that is happening everywhere ... much of it ... most of it, out of our control.

The kids will keep you laughing and shaking your head at the same time.
One of the perks of the job.

It's 3 o'clock somewhere :)
I know what you mean, we should be able to drop our kids at school and not worry about harm coming to them.
Trust me, from the inside, we do what we can to make that true.

Kathy A,
I think that normalcy is incredibly important during lockdowns. It has a calming, comforting effect on our kids.
It's funny, this time of year I hear gunfire all around my place ... sometimes from my place :) and it never bothers me here. In fact, I hardly, consciously notice it.
The same sounds in an urban are ominous and threatening.

but science never sucks.

I followed that story and I still wonder that a healthy 40 something bad guy was being escorted by a 76 year old officer.
It seems absurd.

Here in the south, guns have been part of the culture forever, but from my viewpoint, parenting skills have dropped dramatically and more kids are raising themselves. I see it every day.

You're right, it's extra scary when it's someone you know.
I understand keeping them home after that too.

I think by the end of the day, the rumors were exaggerating the situation so much that parents were in a mild panic.
The kids were probably safer with us than on the roadways.

Note to cows, do not slack off.
I'll look for you at the Folk Festival tomorrow.

LauraHinNJ said...

Glad it turned out okay. I think it's just swful that we keep kids safe this way; that we should have to at school.


Floridacracker said...

Awful that it's a reality, but good that we have plans and practice.
You're right, it's a shame we have to do so.

rcwbiologist said...

I'll admit I went to school a long time ago, but I never had to worry about anything like this through eight grade. Even in high school the worst thing to happen was hearing a rumor that someone had brought a knife to school or someone calling in a bomb threat because they didn't want to take a test. It sucks that kids have to even think about this kind of stuff at all. I know it can and does happen anywhere, but that was a big reason we moved from LA land. This stuff happens there frequently and we didn't want our boys growing up in that environment. The worst that has happened in the area we now live is a few kids phoning in bomb threats to the high school; that sounds familiar to me. I agree it was a good judgment call to call the lock down. Because you never know.

Cathy said...

A Finnish student recently killed several people. Finland.

Yes, FC - it is a jungle out there, but that challenging, bright student you mentioned - and you - your steady resolve - - we push back at the darkness - we advance.

Well written, again.

Floridacracker said...

We've had the fake bomb scare calls too, but it's been 4 years or so.

Thank you for the kind words.
Always pushing from this end.