Heidi Crumrine: What if it happens here?

  • Officials guide students off a bus and into a recreation center where they were reunited with their parents after a school shooting in Highlands Ranch, Colo., on May 7. AP

Monitor columnist
Published: 5/19/2019 12:30:19 AM

It’s hard to not let the dark thoughts creep in.

What if it happens here?

If I’m in the bathroom and have to hide in a stall, would they see me through the half-inch slit between the stalls?

If I’m in my classroom, would we climb out the window and then lie down on the roof?

Is the window on my classroom door easy to cover up?

If I ask a student to lower the blinds and he is shot through the glass, is that my fault?

If a student is in the bathroom when it starts, tries to come back to the classroom and the door is locked, do I open it and risk all of our lives? Or do I leave her out there panicked and alone?

If I’m in the cafeteria, would we be able to run to safety fast enough?

Is there anywhere safe to hide in the auditorium?

If I don’t have my phone with me and it happens, I won’t be able to text my husband to see if he is okay. Or to say goodbye.

What if the student who I didn’t get to check in with yesterday comes to school tomorrow with a weapon?

What if the student who I check in with all of the time comes to school tomorrow with a weapon?

If my kids and I get into a fight on the way to school that is left unresolved, and it happens, will I ever forgive myself?

Do I risk my own life to save a child, or do I run the other way so that my own children don’t lose their mother?

In this era of school shootings, at least one of the above thoughts crosses my mind at least once a day. This is not because I am clinically depressed, have irrational anxiety or some form of PTSD. It’s because this is the world we now live in and the reality of being an educator today.

There have been 15 school shootings in 2019. Within the last 50 days, there have been three: April 1, at Prescott High School in Prescott, Ark.; April 30 at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte; and, most recently, on May 7 at STEM School Highlands Ranch, in Highlands Ranch, Colo. In all three instances, the shooters were either current or former students. 2018 was deadlier for children than deployed service members. By May of that year, 27 children died in school shootings, while 13 members of the military were killed while deployed.

Since Sandy Hook, more than 400 people have been shot in more than 200 school shootings and nearly 1,200 children have died by gun violence. It’s nearly impossible to find the most recent statistics on school shootings because it keeps happening.

Some lawmakers think the solution is to arm teachers. This is absurd. The answer to problems with guns is not more guns. There is no research to back up that this approach works, and it is not supported by teachers, law enforcement and many policymakers.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill just this week that allows teachers to carry guns in the classroom. It is slated to go into effect on Oct. 1. Clearly, this was not created with the input of teachers, because by Oct. 1, most Florida schools will have been in session for nearly two months. Will they suddenly offer training this late into the year? Will they pay for it? Will there be implicit bias training, which is required for members of law enforcement before they are allowed to carry guns? Since students of color are disproportionately disciplined in schools, will armed school officials be more likely to respond with unnecessary force and threats?

Just because I’m a teacher, it doesn’t mean that I know how to handle a violent situation. I don’t know how to make a split-second decision in an active shooter situation; I don’t know how to differentiate between an immediate and an emergent threat; I don’t know how to be a hostage negotiator. I don’t want to do any of those things. That’s what law enforcement is for.

The week of May 5 was Teacher Appreciation Week. Social media was full of love, gratitude and support for teachers. Chipotle offered free burrito bowls; Buffalo Wild Wings offered 20% off dine-in orders; Crayola offered 10% off online orders. In this era of school shootings, these are, frankly, empty platitudes.

Do you know what teachers want for Teacher Appreciation Week? Safe schools. Resources to help at-risk students. Funding for trained school resource officers. Funding for social workers and guidance counselors to meet the actual needs of our students. Cultural competence training. Implicit bias training. Common-sense gun legislation. Not more guns. Not simulated school shooting training. Not professional development in how to apply a tourniquet.

It doesn’t seem like too much to ask, but until that happens, the dark thoughts will keep creeping in.

Book Suggestions

For older readers:

Columbine by Dave Cullen

Why Meadow Died by Andrew Pollack, Mark Eden and Hunter Pollack

Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories by Sarah Lerner

For middle-grade readers:

Aftermath by Kelley Armstrong

Crash and Burn by Michael Hassan

#Never Again by David Hogg and Lauren Hogg

For little readers

Once I Was Very, Very Scared by Chandra Gosh Ippen

Today I’m a Monster by Agnes Green

A Flicker of Hope by Julia Cook

(Heidi Crumrine, the 2018 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, teaches English at Concord High School.)

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