At my kids’ school it's a "Code Red." The principal makes an announcement, the teachers close the doors and shut off the lights, and the kids quietly sit on the floor up against the wall. When I asked my kids why these drills were necessary only my oldest, who's 11, understood. I don't want my kids to know about school shootings, but how else do we keep them safe? And honestly, they already know. They've grown up with school shootings, and that's never more obvious than when I asked elementary school students to describe lockdown drills.
Like my youngest kids, some kids have no idea what these drills are for. My 8-year-old daughter honestly thought they were fire drills. She didn't know what they were doing, or why, which makes me both terrified and glad that she's not terrified. Plus, having to explain to a third grader that bad people might want to hurt kids at her school was heartbreaking. She asked me, “You mean a murderer will come in and tries to kill us?” and I didn't know how to respond. Should I tell her that the person in question might not look like a murderer, but like another kid? Or should I try to put her mind at ease and tell her it's not likely to happen? I have no freaking clue.
Other kids knew exactly what they are for, and it's causing them some serious fear and anxiety. Kids shouldn't have to worry about being killed at school. They just shouldn't. This shouldn't be "normal" and this shouldn't be accepted as some unavoidable reality. A few kids had some good questions about the drills themselves, too. They asked, "Why would someone hurt kids?" and, "What happens to the teachers if they can't hide?" Or, as my 11-year-old community organizer-in-training asked, "Are there better places to hide? I think we can still be seen?" She’s in sixth grade. It made me want to vomit, cry, and start homeschooling my children. I'm afraid to send my kids to school.
If you want to know what kids think about lockdown drills and school shootings, read on for some real answers from kids way too young to have to know about them:
"There's this closet where we go and hide. It's squished but we all go in there, and we all have to be quiet. Sometimes she says if we are very quiet, we'll get to move our clip up. We've done them a bunch of times."
“They announce lockdown. Then, the teacher rushes to the door and locks it and turns off the lights, and we all rush into the closets and close the door behind us. Everyone has to be very quiet. Last time someone farted in the closet, and it was really hard to breath because it smelled like White Castle. We know we can not leave until the teacher gives the word or an authority figure comes to the door.”
"Ms. W closes the blinds so no one can see us, shuts off the lights, and tells us to go in the corner by the ABC board. She locks the door and tells us not to talk or even whisper. But Mommy, what happens to Ms. W and the other grown ups when we are safe in the corner and they’re not?”
"The class and the kindergarten room will lock their classroom doors and go hide in the storage hallway and bathrooms."
"Ms. F locks the door, pulls down the blind, and turns off the lights while we hide in our cubbies. Ms F sits criss-cross applesauce on the floor in front of us with her arms stretched out to block us, but she says we should try to scrunch up and make ourselves as small as possible because then we're harder to hit."
"The teacher locks the door and we are all quiet. But we haven't done one since last year. Most kids aren't quiet, though."
"We all go into the bathroom in the classroom, and we sit on the floor and be very quiet so the people won’t find us."
"When they say 'lockdown' we get in the closet and the teacher locks the door. We don't close the closet, unless it's real. Then we'll close it and stay quiet. If you're on the playground, then you hide inside the slide or in the play-structure. If you're in the field, then you scatter and run as far as you can and hide."
"We hide in the closets and be absolutely silent. Teacher locks the door. The principal announces a couple of minutes before so that no one is in the bathroom."
"They announce a code red. The teacher locks the door and puts black paper over the window. We all hide and stay quiet. If there is a bathroom in the room, we can hide in there."
"Someone announces a lockdown. Mrs M locks the door, and turns off the lights. We stop work, and go sit on our carpet spots and be quiet."
"Well, at my lockdown in my school, we all hide in the furthest corner, mainly under the desks because it’s better there, and we crouch down and there’s no talking. We close the doors and lock them and we don’t come out until the bell rings, saying it’s all safe. We also put a paper on the door so the guy can’t see us in there. The principal comes by and knocks and tells us to open up, but it’s a test, because people can use the principal to try to get what they want."
"My daughter had an actual active shooter lock down last year in her first month of kindergarten. They hadn't even had time to have a practice drill. Her teacher locked the door and took the kids to the corner of the room with their cubbies. She had them hide in there, with their heads ducked and covered and told them to be quiet. She then laid on the floor. (My daughter said this, but I'm thinking she was trying to make herself a human shield.) Unfortunately, one student died, one was shot and survived, and an officer was also shot. It was a terrifying day, but her teacher handled it so well, especially for not having any practice with the kids."
"We’re supposed to shut off the lights and hide behind that little side wall and be very quiet and then the principal and the assistant principal come and jiggle all the door handles to make sure it’s locked and that nobody screams or makes any noise. I imagine it’s a bad guy escaped from jail or a mental hospital coming to shoot us up (then she shrugs and bounces off)."
"They announce the drill over the intercom. In real drills, they use a secret word only the teachers know to know that it's real. We open the blinds to outside so the police can see in the room. We lock both doors, and then we hide in an indent in the room by the front door so that we can't really be seen from either door, and we wait until they tell us the drill is over. My school takes it very seriously. We aren't allowed to make noise or laugh, or we have to go to the office to discuss why this is serious and important. I'm never really scared, just anxious. I always think about 'what if this were real? This could be real one day.'
The lockdown we had last year in grade 5, we kept the blinds closed because the man was outside, and we just stayed in one room. But it was just some guy who was acting aggressive. The kids from visiting schools using our track-and-field field had to run inside and hide in the gym. It was scary. Our teacher read us jokes so we would try and stay happy. But kids were really scared, one was even crying."
"It's just whatever. We lock the door, and the teacher pushes something heavy in front of the door. Then, we all go in the corner and get really quiet. Sometimes we giggle. No one is scared. It's just boring. Sometimes we keep doing what we're doing."
"You sit still, quiet, with the door locked. It’s boring."
Note from her parent: "She says they’ve never explained what a lockdown drill is for, so I guess it’s good that she’s not terrified by a state mandated five-time-per-year drill. But, now that’s I've explained the purpose, she says they’re scary."
"People laugh, and I get annoyed because it could be real. They don't take it seriously and mess around and hide under desks. We aren't allowed to hide under desks. The teacher locks the door and pulls a curtain down over the window on the door. She kinda walks over and hovers next to us or sits in a chair. We're supposed to be in a corner, huddled on the floor. You can't leave the room. I feel anxious, and I don't feel like my teachers can protect me. I start imagining what could happen. What can my teachers do if someone with a gun comes in?"