It was during second period on a Wednesday. I was sitting at my desk during my planning period when the announcement was made over the PA that we were in a stay-in-place lockdown. This usually means that students and teachers need to stay in their classrooms, but the likelihood of an active shooter in the building is pretty low. Sometimes this lockdown announcement is made because there is a student concern in the building (mental health breakdown, medical concern). Other times, this lockdown occurs because the police department is in the building with the K9 unit, checking lockers for drugs.
This time, however, there was a potential threat in the building: a student had brought what looked like a handgun on the school bus and had made multiple threats against students and staff. As the lockdown continued with no new information, I sat in my classroom attempting to find something to do to ease my anxiety. The urgency to use the restroom increased as the minutes went by, and I kicked myself for not going between classes after first period. I decided to check the hallway, knowing full well that we were in a stay-in-place lockdown. I opened my classroom door, looked down the hallway to the left and saw what I assumed to be a police officer holding what looked like a semi-automatic weapon. Freaked out, I flinched back into my classroom and returned to my desk, hoping that no one would come knocking on my door.
I went back to my desk and did a quick Google search of my school to see if there was any information. Thankfully, the local news had a brief, explaining that a student had brought a pellet gun on the bus that had been mistaken as a handgun. Shortly after I read the brief, my principal contacted the staff through email, updating the situation and attempting to relieve our fears. I continued to sit in my classroom, hoping the situation would end soon, but thankful that it seemed that the potential threat was not too big of a concern any longer.
Eventually, the student was arrested off campus, but he refused to tell police where the alleged weapon was stored. For several hours, police checked every single room, bathroom, and closet in the building. At the time they did not know if the student was acting alone, or if there were potential explosives in the building. Finally, I heard a key unlocking my classroom door, but a face was not what I saw first. A police officer used his weapon to open my door, not showing his face until the door was completely opened and he had done a quick visual search of the classroom. He told me to leave the classroom and follow the police officers who were stationed at ten-foot intervals down to our school gymnasium where students and staff were waiting to be released. The gym was chaos as students and staff stood in line for the restroom. Staff members urged students to find a seat in the bleachers, but anxiety was thick in the room as no one really knew exactly what was going on or when we would be able to go home. Eventually at about 1:45 pm, parents and guardians were allowed to pick up their children.
This is one lockdown in my twenty years of teaching. Thankfully, this was the most precarious situation that I have experienced, but that doesn’t make the situation any better. During my first year of teaching, there were several bomb threats and we were required to evacuate to the school stadium. During my first year as a middle school teacher, a lockdown was called because a man was walking on the street near the school with a crossbow. Several times, my school has been put on lockdown because of some other disturbance in the neighborhood. I am grateful that I have never faced an active shooter in my building, nor have I lost a student or colleague to the senseless violence that we have seen yet again in an elementary school in Texas.
To be honest, I am numb. Since the 1999 school shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, it seems like there is an increase in school violence. Yesterday’s shooting is eerily similar to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 – another unreal example of what students and educators face today: the possibility of a gunned intruder, blindly killing whoever is in the way – even innocent seven, eight, and nine year children.
I honestly don’t know what to say. I could comment on the fact that we need policy and change, not thoughts and prayers. I could criticize the lack of mental health services across the nation. I could argue that students and families need more support from local authorities. I could complain that our nation is going to “hell in a handbasket.” But none of my words will change anything. Yesterday, at least nineteen children were killed while they were in what should be one of the safest places in our cities: an elementary school. They were looking forward to summer vacation – sleeping in, going to the pool, eating popsicles in the front yard, watching TV, playing video games until the early morning hours, relaxing after a long school year that was “back to normal.” I guess it was back to normal since gun violence at schools has increased once again since students and staff returned to “regular instruction” in 2021.
All that I can do today is be grateful that it wasn’t at my school. All that I can do as I look toward the next school year is pray that it won’t happen again, not anywhere.
One thing that I ask is that people stop trying to simplify this problem by blaming it on gun control, mental health instability, bullying, family breakdown, or any other single issue. This evil in our society is so much bigger than any one problem. Any ill in society is so much more complex than that.
The other thing that I ask is that you would pray: pray for the students, pray for the teachers, pray for the support staff, pray for the administrators, pray for the communities, pray for the families, pray for our nation. We need to stop blaming one another – our political polarization is not helping nor is our nationalistic view of our faith. Living in a world that mostly preaches division, hatred, power, and position is exhausting. We need to remember that love is the greatest commandment. LOVE.
So today, LOVE your neighbor even if you don’t look like them. LOVE your neighbor even if they are slightly weird. LOVE your neighbor even if they stand on the opposite side of the political divide. LOVE your neighbor even if they worship differently than you. LOVE your neighbor no matter what.