ANALYSIS | In Bremerton, Washington, a schoolmate shot an 8-year-old girl in the stomach. The accused shooter, a third grade boy, brought the loaded gun to school for unknown reasons, and police are beginning an investigation. The girl was in critical condition after the shooting.
The 400-student school, Armin Jahr Elementary, was required to "lock down" after the shooting. Parents and teachers followed procedures and no one else was hurt. At least not physically.
Bremerton is a "quiet residential neighborhood about 20 miles west of Seattle"- not the kind of place one would expect a school shooting at any school, let alone an elementary school campus. Americans stereotype school shootings as only problems for urban settings, and we don't pay much attention to our safer neighborhoods.
As a public school teacher for 21 years, I have worked in a variety of school settings, from urban to suburban. Safety is always a concern for me - teachers are expected to be leaders in times of crisis, and to keep students away from harm. I have a daily awareness of my the responsibility for the 30-plus children in my class. Schools run their drills during safety week, hoping never to have to put them into practice. I wonder how prepared the Armin Jahr teachers felt.
My current school location is in a suburban upper middle class neighborhood. Crime in our city is low, and most citizens feel safe. During a real lockdown a few years ago, however, I could see the terror in my children's eyes as they scurried away from the windows and huddled in the dark on the floor while I locked the door and pulled the blinds shut.
We had never practiced lockdown procedure, but instinctively I went into protection mode, even though I had no clue what was really happening outside my door. I had been through this before in other schools where real bullets were outside on the street; I knew what to do. Cell phones were silent, and the class was still. After what seemed like hours, but was really only about 45 minutes, the "all clear" bell rang and we began to resume normal activity.
After a lockdown, though, school feels anything but normal. Questions and concerns swirl, and plans for 'next time' develop - all the while hoping there never is one. In reality, sadly, we know there probably will be.
Hearing the lockdown signal sends instant alarm to a teacher's mind. We are not trained to deal with shooters, but we are expert caregivers. Somehow, though, when the shooter is a child it puts a completely new wrinkle on it.
To me the real question isn't how to improve lockdown procedures, but instead how to improve the safety of our children. How do children get weapons in the first place? How do they transport them to school without anyone seeing? Moreover, if someone does see, why don't they tell?
Children aren't born criminals. How do they become one by the age of eight?
- school shooting