Schools used to be sanctuaries; now they're more like trauma centers

January 28, 2019. If this was a normal school day here’s what occurred:

  • There were 33 incidents involving the threat of weapons.

  • There were 67 Lockdowns.

  • Fifty-thousand students were affected.

Many of those 50,000 wrote their parents notes, most of which said goodbye, many of which expressed their love, and some of which even showed concern for how those parents would survive without them.


If this was a normal school day.


Now no sane person would deny that a lockdown during a school shooting can save lives. We have the proof from Parkland. And no sane person would suggest we stop having them because we’re traumatizing children. Children have wonderful recuperative capability from emotional trauma, not from weapons.


Even so, among victims nightmares linger and irrational fears arise and remain. Results worsen when the situation is extreme. Late last year near Albany, New York, schoolchildren endured a six-hour shutdown. No food, no water, no bathroom access. Slamming doors convinced some of them that the shooter was in the hallway. Police, never certain that the threat was real, searched every locker and every backpack, then patted each student down when that part of the search had ended. Six hours. There was no shooter.


When I experienced my first classroom lockdown as a teacher, it resulted from the attack at Columbine in 1999. It was a drill, it lasted under a half hour, it was disconcerting, but it was more distracting than frightening. At least I think. In retrospect, I’m not so sure. At the time we all thought the Colorado incident was an anomaly, and the “it can’t happen here” belief was in full force. Those days are long gone.


Lockdowns even carry with them an economic and societal component. In inner cities, schoolchildren in high crime areas often hear gunshots during the school day. Very seldom do these acts engender a lockdown, though there is little doubt that the continuous onslaught is doing damage.


Since Columbine, school shootings have increased. So too has the proliferation of guns. The new Democratic House is wrapped up in all things Trump: the Mueller probe, impeachment, the Russians. Let’s hope they remember that the damage from this gaggle of Republicans exceeds those narrow topics, and that the task of the new House is to chip away at the other damage that Trump’s presidency has caused. We can start with the NRA and the president's expedient love affair with that organization. Already their membership is dwindling, and if we don't kick them when they're down, then we'll remain culpable.


It's not a panacea, but fewer guns on the street and more difficulty in acquiring them could translate to fewer lockdowns. Kids will still be traumatized by tests for which they did not study and by homework cruelly devoured by their dog, but at least they won’t be imprisoned in the dark with imminent death their only thought.

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