That’s What She Said: Thoughts on Preparedness in our Schools

| September 10, 2014 | 4 Comments

Last Friday a bomb threat was called in to a local middle school.  My child’s elementary school is connected to this middle school.  There are several ways I think the district could improve the handing of future threats. The actions taken on Friday made me aware of exactly how unprepared our schools, their staff and most parents are to capably deal with an emergency.

First, communication to parents of an emergency involving their child.  I initially learned of the threat via a friend on Facebook. Two hours later I received this email communication from the school district:

“At approximately 1:20 pm today,  Police responded on teh (sic) report of a bomb threat that had been called in to 911.  As a precautionary measure, police and school officials decided it was appropriate to evacuate our school s(sic) well, while Middle School was searched by a law enforcement K-9 unit.  Students were evacuated a safe distance from the buildings while the search was conducted.  Nothing was found during the search.  Because the search was not complete before dismissal time, students could not go back into the school to get their things before being dismissed for the day.”

When I asked officials and teachers why there was a 2 hour delay in communication to the parents, I was informed that:

  • The principal was too busy organizing the evacuation
  • Many of the teachers thought  it was a drill until they saw the police outside
  • Most adults on site left  their cell phones behind as they were evacuated
  • They would not have been able to contact all of the parents individually from the field they were assembled in anyway

In reality, there is a district-wide emergency communication system which is activated remotely, not on school grounds. I have no idea why I knew this and the staff did not.  As a taxpayer, I expect this system to be deployed as soon as there is an emergency. A simple text/email/voice mail message (the system is capable of all three) should have been sent. This action would:

  • Alert me of the problem.
  • Advise me that access to the area will be limited to police and emergency officials.
  • Update me with an “all clear”and appropriate instructions for collecting my child

I am baffled that is is not standard and required. Again, this action is taken at the district office. There is no reason for the teachers to worry about anything but shepherding the kids to safety.

Another consequence of this lax approach to communication affects working parents and their latchkey kids. When everyone was evacuated, they were instructed to leave all belongings behind. For many of the kids this meant no access to jackets, backpacks, house keys and cellphones. By neglecting to inform working parents until late afternoon, at the cusp of rush-hour traffic, many kids were locked out of their homes with no jacket, house  key or cellphone. Some were left for several hours if their parents had a city commute.  In the mid-west being locked out of your home for extended periods with no jacket can be deadly.

Luckily the teachers and staff were on hand to make sure that the kids left with their rightful parents.

Just kidding. They fucked that part up too.

My ex-husband is a tall, somewhat gaunt man with a deep voice. After I informed him of the emergency, he was able to walk to the school to collect our son. He didn’t need to show ID. He simply signed him out at the designated area. His neighbors, who are working parents, didn’t know that their kids had been evacuated. They have an elementary aged son and a middle school aged daughter. Both kids are new to the district this year. My ex began looking for them.  He found the son and signed him out. No questions were asked. Oddly it took him several tries to find a teacher who would let him sign out the older female sibling. He told me that he just kept asking until he found someone who would say yes.

I have other concerns about the kids being herded into an open field like sitting ducks for an active shooter, but let’s be real here; if this district can’t:

  • Convince their teachers of the importance of carrying their personal cell phones on them throughout the day
  • Manage intelligent, timely communication with parents regarding the status of a school emergency
  • Conduct parent pick-up in a uniform, safe manner
  • Keep staff informed of a real emergency situation as opposed to a drill

I’d say that is the least of our problems.

Will the kind of change needed to address these issues happen? Judging by most other parents reactions to the threat, no. These parents often don’t have their own home emergency plans. They thought the email from the district was adequate. They said that because the police were there, everything “felt safe and reassuring”. I wonder how they would feel if they knew how underfunded police training was.

So instead of hoping things will change, how can we help our kids manage when their school fails them?

  • Have them carry a small flashlight and house key on a necklace. You can include an engraved tag with your phone number on it.
  • Keep an emergency dry bag containing water, snacks, warm clothes, small trauma kit and another flashlight someplace on your property. Make sure your kids know where it is
  • Keep your neighbors informed of any phone number or email changes, know theirs. Ask them every 6 months or so
  • Create a neighborhood Facebook page where parents can communicate and organize quickly in an emergency or if inclement weather strikes
  • Write a letter expressing  who your child can be released to in the event of an emergency. Send it both to the school office and the district wide office.
  • Run drills with them to practice situational awareness
  • Have an agreed upon landmark to meet your child outside of school-grounds in case staff control breaks down
  • Teach them the difference between cover and concealment

How will you prepare your child for a school emergency?

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About the Author:

The She-Shepherd The She-Shepherd is a defensive firearms student, mother and advocate for pushing the boundaries of how we train. She believes that defensive training must balance context, mindset, and skill to be most effective. Her specialty has become testing alternative modes of firearms carry and best practices of less than lethal force options through rigorous force-on-force scenario based training.
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4 Comments on "That’s What She Said: Thoughts on Preparedness in our Schools"

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  1. B R Kurtz B R Kurtz says:

    Well first youre dealing with the SCHOOL SYSTEM, which is an a completely different life form. They have absolutley zero concept of any reality outside of their own delusions of how things sssssshould be, as opposed to how the real world really works, which is why they can have “its Johnny’s turn to wear the dress; but Sally gets sent to the office because she drew a picture of her Dad in the Army holding an American flag and a M16.

    Im not at all surprised at the confusion, but rest assured they will form a cousel to discuss it and make the proclamation that Bombs in Schools are bad. Do not count on any school system to handle a crisis well. Your best alternative is to teach your child to react. In theevent of an emergency he is to CALL YOU. If that means he has to leave without permission, so be it. If that means he has to physically evade a teacher, so be it, and frankly if that means he has to physically “move” a teacher, so the F–K, why not. They have demonstrated they are incapable of handling your childs saftey–all hes doing is ensuring it…

    • Ethan762 says:

      Sadly true. I’m all for fixing the system, but for your family’s sake you have to start with the assumption that the system IS F*KED. Essentially your child has think in terms of being on their own and react accordingly.

      Escape, Evade, Survive. Train them in bugging out of their school in the same way we would bug out from our work in an emergency.

  2. The She-Shepherd The She-Shepherd says:

    “Bombs in Schools are Bad” would make a great T-shirt. 🙂

    What I didn’t mention in my post, because it could be it’s very own topic, was the special instructions his teacher had for all of the parents.

    “they are to obey her without question especially if the instruction seems weird and out of the ordinary.”

    My jaw literally dropped. No. Thanks. I’ll continue teaching my kid to think with his brain and be aware of his surroundings.

    • Ethan762 says:

      Home school. Seriously.
      I know, just like reloading your own ammo, most people’s reactions are “I don’t have the time” or “I’m not qualified”.

      Time is an matter of priorities, that I can’t decide for you.

      But the idea that you have to have special qualifications to teach children is state-sponsored lunacy. I’ve helped run the Education Major program at the local university – I’ve seen with great intimacy what kind of people that those programs produce. There is literally nothing. on. this. earth. that you could not do better than one of them.

      Thank you for the great article. You have hit the nail on the head.

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