“We apologize for the late notice, but all schools are closed today due to an active shooter in the area.”
The call came in at 6 a.m. – an automated recording from our school district.
The message? Stay home, and stay safe.
No amount of morning coffee could have prepared me for that directive.
I don’t live under a rock. I know this is the world that we live in:
- I was in college when the Columbine Massacre happened on April 20, 1999. I vividly remember watching the tragedy on CNN with my roommates as we huddled around our small, dorm-sized television. It was unlike anything we had ever seen.
- Along with the rest of our nation, I sat in horror watching the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting news unfold on television on December 14, 2012. Twenty children and six teachers lost their lives that day. Many of those children were Kindergartners. To this day, I still can’t even imagine how scared those poor babies and their teachers must have been when the shooter attacked them. I cried for those sweet, innocent children. I wept for their teachers. I mourned for their families. The devastation of the parents who lost their children goes beyond anything I can possibly imagine.
But here is the reality: I cried, wept, and mourned for the Columbine and Sandy Hook victims from the comfort and security of my own home. My empathy – while felt and expressed – came from my safe and quiet community, thousands of miles away.
When Sandy Hook happened, my children were alive and safe. They were given extra snuggles and kisses and were safely tucked into bed that evening. The stark truth of just how fleeting life is and how fortunate we truly are – which can so easily get lost in the busy shuffle of everyday life – was certainly brought to the surface. But was my family truly affected? No. Not until yesterday morning.
Have my kids been part of the aftermath of recent, mass school shootings? Undoubtedly. Legislation across the country has mandated School Lockdown/Shelter In Place Drill policies.
Michigan law requires that at least two Lockdown Drills be practiced each year “with security measures that are appropriate to an emergency, such as the release of a hazardous material or the presence of an armed individual on or near the premises”.
For my kindergartener, a Lockdown Drill means playing a game of “hide and seek” with the teacher and the principal. He explained that his teacher and classmates “hide”, while the principal tries to find the students, and break into their hiding spot. After his first mock lockdown this year, he excitedly told me: “Mom, we won! The principal couldn’t find us.” The drill is treated as a game, and parents are given the opportunity to explain – or not explain – the reality at home.
It’s a little different for my eight-year-old. He understands that a Lockdown Drill potentially means “getting away from the bad man,” as he puts it. He had a million questions after the school’s first drill this fall. It led to a lengthy discussion, during which I shared the Sandy Hook tragedy. Like so many others, he grappled with the question of just who in the world would want to hurt and harm children?! He looked at his five-year-old brother and three-year-old sister and I could see the wheels turning. He inevitably asked the question: “Mom, does that mean [they] could be hurt, too?”
Yes, my sweet, little one. Yes, it does. It brought tears to my eyes to relay the details, and to watch my son’s reaction. It was like watching a part of his inherent innocence being snatched away, with me as the culprit.
This is the reality of our world. My children take part in mock scenarios where all students practice hiding from violent assailants looking to target and hurt them. My eight-year-old asks if his brother and sister could be potential shooting victims. I know this, but it’s never come as close to home as it did yesterday morning.
Yesterday morning the reality came crashing down, right into our own backyard: “we apologize for the late notice, but all schools are closed today due to an active shooter in the area.”
My eight-year-old was the only one awake when the call came. I have never been more grateful for his early-morning, conversation-and-snuggle routine. It took me a few moments to process the recorded message, but he snapped right into action. “We’re not going anywhere, Mom,” he said, “we need to stay safe.” I couldn’t have agreed more.
Shockingly, not everyone in our community saw it that way. On the district and local social media channels, some called the school district’s decision to cancel school a “silly, knee-jerk reaction.” Others were complaining that their kids were just about to head out to the bus stop; parents were furious about the “late” notice.
Did I have a day filled with work, obligations, and activities that I had committed to? I sure did. But is anything more important to me than protecting my children, and surrounding them with others that love and protect them in my stead? No. In my mind, it shouldn’t even be a question. It’s not an inconvenience to keep my children safe, regardless of the timing or circumstances.
Schools today are entrusted not only with the enormous task of educating our children, but with keeping them safe. In today’s world, safety goes beyond the sturdiness of playground equipment or putting up safety barriers in the school parking lot. It means teaching our children how to hide from “the bad man”, and ultimately how to save their lives should the need arise. The need could have arisen yesterday.
I’m so thankful that our school system, and so many other surrounding districts, put children first and made the decision to keep them out of harm’s way during an area-wide manhunt for an “active shooter”. I would hope that any school or district across the country would do the same.
As cliché as it sounds, it truly does take a village. I’m so thankful that I have mine.