"Lack of lockdown drill worries teacher" by BILL O’CONNELL
At a recent faculty meeting, teachers and other school staff discussed “crucial safety procedures” but failed to address the lack of lockdown drills, which have been performed regularly since incidents like the school shootings at Columbine began to plague our nation’s schools.
Veteran WHS Social Studies teacher Joseph Casey brought the lack of lockdown drills to the attention of WHS Principal Elinor Freedman in a letter.
“With the news of the day during the last month and as recently as this past Monday documenting suspected plots against various schools across the country,” Casey wrote, “it appears that we have failed miserably to address this possibility in a manner that would establish any confidence in our ability as an institution to face such an imponderable circumstance.”
A lockdown drill takes place when, for example, an unwanted person enters the campus. The classroom teachers would secure the room by locking all the doors and closing all windows. The teachers would then instruct students to sit on the floor in the middle of the room, away from the doors and windows. Red and green cards are also handed out to teachers to place outside their door or on a window to indicate a good or bad situation. Police and fire officials then respond and take charge of the scene, using faculty and staff to gather reports or information.
Casey wrote that the lack of sufficient practice and training, especially during drills where students aren’t involved, “cannot under any circumstances be considered an appropriate initiative to provide for the safety of the students or the staff.”
Casey said in his letter that a handful of teachers were involved in a drill that took place toward the end of the last faculty meeting, but that it wasn’t sufficient training to protect the students in the school.
“Sending teachers to their ‘A’ block day ‘1’ assignments to lock only themselves in their classroom falls far short of the necessary preparation to meet a potentially catastrophic situation on a number of levels,” Casey wrote. “In fact, many staff members who had no class assignment during the block specified were not included even in this minimalist initiative. Most compelling is the fact that the most vital element in the process, the students, were not involved in that drill.”
Freedman defended the decision to not perform a lockdown drill during the 2005-2006 school year and said the students and staff at Wakefield High are prepared for emergencies.
“I don’t want the perception out there that we’re not safe,” Freedman said. “We’re addressing safety concerns on an ongoing basis and we’re constantly making sure there are protocols in place to keep all the students safe. And most schools in
Freedman explained that a schedule of planned drills and practices was made at the beginning of the year with central administration. Freedman said this year, the school has gone through evacuation drills to the Charbonneau Field House, bus evacuation drills and drills to exit the building and surrounding property. Freedman also said there was a faculty review of all the safety procedures during special sessions with new teachers entering the school system and safety is addressed in one way or another at every faculty meeting.
“We’ve haven’t done a full lockdown practice per se, but we did have a semi-emergency,” said Freedman of a recent power outage in the school where students were confined to their classrooms until school officials could figure out what happened. “We have a schedule of practice for students. We’ll do some this year, some next year. I don’t want the public to think we’re not paying serious attention to this.”
Casey said he performed some of the drills with students in his classes (some seniors and some sophomores) and it still took them time to get adjusted to the procedure, one session lasting as long as 20 to 25 minutes.
“If we had a lockdown today, the whole freshman class would never know what to do,” Casey told the Daily Item today. “I’ll be the happiest guy in the world if I’m wrong. Even if something never happens, I’d feel better knowing I said something.”
The following is a copy of the letter written by Casey to Freedman.
The discussion of “crucial safety procedures” at our last faculty meeting raised personal concerns over the fact that we have not truly practiced the vital lockdown drill necessary to orient our students to classroom procedures focused upon the need to reassure and protect them should a lockdown be required.
With the news of the day during the last month and as recently as this past Monday documenting suspected plots against various schools across the country, it appears that we have failed miserably to address this possibility in a manner that would establish any confidence in our ability as an institution to face such an imponderable circumstance. The decision to have a “drill” similar to the one conducted at the tail end of the last faculty meeting cannot under any circumstances be considered an appropriate initiative to provide for the safety of the students or the staff. Sending teachers to their “A” block day “1” assignments to lock only themselves in their classroom falls far short of the necessary preparation to meet a potentially catastrophic situation on a number of levels. In fact, many staff members who had no class assignment during the block specified were not included even in this minimalist initiative.
Most compelling is the fact that the most vital element in the process, the students, were not involved in that drill. After the (sophomore) dance last month a letter was sent home to parents and guardians assuring them that as an institution we were gravely concerned for the safety of their children using the words “There is nothing more important that we do.” That assertion, however, pales in the face of what we have done in this instance. We have done nothing to orient the members of the freshman class; and are depending upon the memories of the upperclassmen to see them through. The large numbers of staff members who are new to the building have also been unfairly placed in jeopardy in that they have had no opportunity to simulate this crisis in fact.
This bothered me to the extent that during the past week I addressed this matter with my senior and sophomore classes on my own. With their unequivocal cooperation, I was dismayed that before I was able to establish a minimum comfort level it took at least 20 to 25 minutes to address these matters with these “veterans” who had been through the practice process with at least four different teachers within the last year.
I am troubled by this discovery and feel that it is unconscionable to expect the response necessary in such a crisis without the opportunity to practice it, as we have done in the past, with all of our students in each of our classrooms. Moreover, the dark history of such tragedies regrettably indicates that casualties without exception have been suffered by individuals in this class ... building staff and students.
I would again be dismayed if the response of parents, guardians and the citizens of this community were anything less than outrage and their assessment of our conduct as one of “incompetence,” “misfeasance” or even “malfeasance” should they even become aware of our failure to provide their children with the instruction and practice necessary to prepare for such a crisis.
May we place this matter on the faculty agenda immediately?