Teacher reflects on school shooting threats

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By “Miss Nelson”,
Salem Elementary Teacher,

It was strange to come home from work today and read about the shooter in Tualatin who came to his estranged wife’s work and began shooting.

My students and I had spent this week talking about Condition drills. These are the school shooter or intruder version of fire alarm or earthquake drills. We have done them in years past, but this year our school resource officer came and presented to the staff about the multiple reasons that schools may be targeted for shootings. These include domestic violence, homicidal students and former students like Kip Kinkel, and most recently, terrorist acts like those seen in Russia and the Middle East. He shared with us that when he first learned that schools were becoming targets for terrorists that he was skeptical, but that same day terrorists targeted a school in Israel and the real danger of it began to hit home.

I felt a similar skepticism, until my family relayed a news story from a few years back stating that Oregon was one of six states notified by federal law enforcement that a computer disc had been found in Iraq with detailed information on school floor plans and crisis planning documents from the eight targeted school districts.

The training took us beyond what you would normally think about in terms of school safety—things like ensuring that all outside doors are securely locked and making sure everyone who comes into the school has a pass or a school badge. It made the idea of a person with criminal intent finding their way into the school with the intent to harm children, and being the first line of defense for protecting 20-30 little bodies, extremely real. Today my students and I practiced how to get to a safe, secure location and then act like you are playing hide-and-seek so you don’t make any noise that would alert an unsafe person as to your location.

I am extremely grateful to our resource officer for seeing the importance of practicing for the unlikely and unwanted, the same way we practice for earthquake and fire drills. Police and military personnel live by the mantra that in a time of crisis you do what you practice, so you need to practice frequently and correctly.

I was also extremely grateful that all of my students stayed still—no rapping pencils, nervous laughter, or tapping feet gave away that students were in the classroom during the drill. However, when I see a classroom full of children calmly and deftly executing an exercise intended to prepare us for a Columbine-like disaster, I can’t help but think—is this really where we are in society?

A previous school year, when a gang member shot himself on school property, my students wanted to know what I would do if someone with a gun did get into our classroom. I was faced with the futility of the tools of protection that school teachers and students are allowed to have in public schools. My answer to my students was not to worry. It most likely would never happen, and if it did, it was my responsibility to take care of them, and I would. But what I was really thinking was, how?