“We are in a lockdown,” the intercom blared throughout our school.
This was not a drill. The police had surrounded a house in the neighborhood and were in some sort of stand-off. Exchanging glances with the other teachers in the lounge, my first reaction was to run toward my students who were out on the playground for recess. But the doors were already being locked and the lights doused. With Parkland, Florida fresh in my mind, my heart pounded and a lump rose in my throat.
Were my babies okay?
One teacher pulled out her phone and put it on speaker as we listened in on the radio chatter of dispatch calling numbers I didn’t know the meaning of on the police channel. Whatever was happening was two blocks away.
That was a relief.
It was Dr. Seuss’s birthday and many of the kids had worn their P. J’s and carried stuffed animals with them in anticipation of the readers and the Cat in the Hat that were scheduled to visit our class. We were still waiting for our turn when we went into lockdown. So instead of hearing the dreams of Oh The Places You’ll Go our students huddled under desks listening to teachers trying to calm their fears.
The stand-off ended with non-lethal gunfire exchanged and the perpetrator’s arrest. We continued on with our day as normally as we could. I returned to class, heaving a sigh of relief when I reunited with all of my students. Then I fielded questions from the white-faced fifth-graders.
“Yes, it was real, but far away. It was just a precaution. The police always call for a lockdown if they are trying to catch somebody within a mile of a school. Don’t worry. You were safe inside. We are here to protect you.”
While I spoke, images of Parkland, Sandy Hook, Marshall County, Columbine, Red Lake, and Virginia Tech flashed through my mind. These kids were safe but our school’s name could just as easily been added to the list.
Welcome to an American elementary school.