Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What It's REALLY Like During A School Lockdown

Our school made the news today for a soft lockdown.

School lockdowns often make the news -- because news media folks love to get into the danger zone, and the public freaks out if they think there's a chance of a shooting.
But the truth is that most lockdowns are mostly just annoying.  Our school has been through a LOT of lockdowns in the many years I've taught there, and not a single one of them proved to be anything more than precautionary.  Once we had to go into soft lockdown for 30 minutes or so because a student from a nearby grade school had been injured in an auto-pedestrian accident (broken leg or so, not life-threatening).  The EMTs decided he needed LifeFlight for some reason, and the helicopter had nowhere to land except on our school's softball field.  All our kids had to be contained while this happened.  Another time we went into soft lockdown because one of our own students had been injured (again, nothing life-threatening) in the gym, and EMTs do NOT like having crowds of kids huddling while they work.  It was near class change time, so we went into lockdown to keep kids away from the EMTs while they got the injured girl out of the building.
See?  Most lockdowns are pretty mundane.
Have we ever had one because of a gun?  Sure.  But it was still not that big of a deal.  YEARS ago, I recall that one of my students, S., apparently wanted to sell a sawed-off shotgun to another one of my students, C. This was to take place during lunch.  Another student saw the weapon (hidden in a trench coat pocket) and reported it.  S. took off running, but no one was sure as to whether or not he'd taken the gun.  So, while the police searched for S., kids were put into lockdown, and all available adults searched lockers.  No weapons were found, S was caught, no one was ever in danger.

Today was a bit like that last one, but things were easier because of the internet.
I have 9th grade regular English for period 4B, which begins at 12:30 PM.  Today, three kids were absent, so I only had 35 in the room. (Note: in Utah, 35 is an average-sized class.)  I have a no hall pass policy; only kids with real emergencies involving vomit, a bloody nose, or a contact lens get hall passes, so most days, no one gets a hall pass.  Today was one of those normal days.
Period 4B ends at 1:55, but we went into soft lockdown at about 1:40.  I locked the relocatable door, reassured the kids that soft lockdown meant there was no real danger, and we kept working.
The bells were turned off, so we did not go to advisory class.  By 2:15, I was really regretting drinking a coke before 4B and was wondering when I'd get to use the restroom.  Also by 2:15, the kids had had enough of English work, and I told them to stop working on their group research projects and just chill for awhile.
But school privacy rules mean that very little info was available, and the kids grew uptight wondering what was happening.
Thank heaven for Twitter!  I pulled up the twitter feeds for  the Salt Lake Tribune, KSL TV, KUTV, and KTVX.  The first two were useless, but the latter two began to give us far more info than the school could release.
I read off to the kids that a boy from our school had had a gun and had fled, that he was somewhere east of the school, and that we were in no danger.  This helped calm the kids.
The end of school came, but we were not released.
Now, kids are not supposed to use their phones during an emergency so that satellite communications don't get overloaded, but I made a small exception.  I divided the kids into 3 groups and allowed each group 3 minutes to text their parents and such.  Nearly all the kids obeyed and shut off their phones when I promised I'd let them do it again if we were still stuck there in 15 minutes.
We were.
And 15 minutes beyond that.
By then it was 3:30, and they'd been in my room for three solid hours.  They were still behaving, but they'd been reduced to throwing paper at each other, and the room was getting pretty messy.  (Oh well. I'll have period 1A do a quick pick up tomorrow morning.)  I'd passed out all my bagged candy (teachers must buy their own candy; we may not be reimbursed for any candy), which helped cheer up the kids.
Finally, I saw one of the paraprofessionals at the door of the main building.  Literally pushing a couple of kids back into my room -- and knowing the kid gunman was nowhere near the school -- I stepped outside my relo (with my keys in hand) and begged her to call the office on her walkie to ask if I could escort my kids inside the building to use the bathroom!  (As it was a soft lockdown, kids everywhere except the two relos had been allowed controlled access to the restrooms.)  She assented, and five minutes later, the head custodian, the intern vice-principal, the school cop, and the paraprofessional lined up to herd my kids from my door into the auditorium.  From there I was able to take small groups to the restrooms.  (Thank heaven!)
At just before 4:00 PM, we received word to begin releasing the kids.  This was done classroom by classroom, and it took nearly 30 minutes to get them all herded out the front doors, with no kids being allowed to stop at lockers.
Outside were about 150 or so parents.  Most were behaving, but some got pretty nasty, trying to force their way in to get kids' cell phones.  While I was on door duty, not a single parent thanked the numerous police officers or any school employees for keeping their kids safe and under control for an extra hour and a half after school.   Not one.
When all the kids were out, we left the police in charge of dealing with the crowd and the media, and we were called in to a faculty meeting.  There we learned as much of the rest of the story as we were allowed to know (everything but the name of the kid -- but that's OK; all students will know it by tomorrow morning due to social media, so all we have to do is ask one of them).  The police found the boy, and he surrendered.  The gun was a toy.  No one was ever in danger.  But we did everything right.

So, what's it REALLY like during a major lockdown?
Mostly it's tiring.
Try to imagine being in a classroom with 35 9th graders for 3 1/2 hours without a single break.  That's what it's like.  :)
And I was lucky; I had 9th graders, not 7th graders.  And it was a reasonably good class.  They behaved pretty well, considering.  They followed my directions.  They did not go nuts on me.

All the same, I'm going to take a bucket to school -- just in case we're ever in a hard lockdown and we are forced to spend longer than 3 hours without bathroom access!  (No, I'm not kidding.  I've got a bucket ready to go for tomorrow.)


  1. I've only been in one real lockdown (not a drill) and it was in the days before we had official policies regarding it. It was just a couple months after the Columbine incident and a dad and uncle came to pick up the kid after school for a hunting weekend. They, unfortunately, were holding their rifles in the front seat of the pick-up with them, and were parked in the back lot facing directly at the doors where all the bus students came out. About 10 minutes before the bell rang, the secretary came over the PA and told us to grab any students in the hall, whether they were ours or not, pull them into our rooms and lock the doors until told otherwise. 20 minutes later they came over the PA and said to unlock the doors and let the kids go. Yup, no code word, no waiting until someone came and unlocked the door.
    Anyway, glad it was nothing serious, and that your bladder didn't burst.

  2. Here's hoping that all of your school lockdowns are soft ones. And short.