“We did lockdown today.”
Most parents will never be fully comfortable with those words. Our own schooldays weren’t punctuated by drills on how to survive a mass shooting or a terror attack. Most of us weren’t taught how to stay away from windows, shelter under desks and not make a sound whenever a particular song or sound is played over the school PA system.
But for our kids – for well over a decade now in NSW schools – these kind of practices have become entirely normal, like a fire drill with a few extra steps.
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My daughter had one last week. She was pretty excited about it. She and her classmates were out “doing sport” at the time and all the kids had to run to the nearest classroom and lie still while doors and windows were secured and until teachers – meticulously trained to stay calm and positive throughout – gave them the nod to resume wrestling and trading Shopkins.
If my daughter and her friends are happy to have the routines of primary school interrupted by “lockdown”, I shudder every time I hear the word. Because I know why these seven-year-olds are told to make themselves small and silent – to prevent them from being ‘easy targets’ of all the worst bogeymen of our news feeds and imaginations – while to her, aged seven and privileged to live in largely peaceful, sane Australia, the why of it is vaguely hazy.
Parents are always walking a line between scaring our children and keeping them safe. Don’t talk to strangers, but know that most people are kind. Get off your screen and climb a tree, but don’t go too high or too far. Be independent, but never leave my sight. But when it comes to the real horror stories, it’s hard to dodge the ugly parts. Does my child really need to know there are people in the world who are so damaged they would hunt her through the corridors of a silent school?
But any ambivalence I might hold about lockdown procedures took a dent this week, with news from the US that in their latest (very likely not the latest, by time of writing) mass shooting, children’s lives were saved by these very procedures, as they have doubtless been before.
On Tuesday, November 7, Kevin Janson Neal of Rancho Tehama Reserve, northern California, killed his wife, hid her body and then drove around town randomly shooting people for several hours. At one point in that rampage, Neal arrived at Rancho Tehama School.
What happened next is reported here, from Slate:
“The bell had not rang, roll had not been taken, when the shots were heard,” said Corning Union Elementary School District Superintendent Richard Fitzpatrick. Students, parents, and teachers rushed into classrooms, locked doors, and sheltered in place under desks. “This was a question of minutes,” Fitzpatrick added.
Neal crashed his vehicle through the school gates but was unable to enter classrooms, so he stayed outside the school for six minutes and fired through the windows and walls before continuing his shooting spree elsewhere