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14:46:15 - 03/11/2001
School Violence Hits Home
I've come to understand the various workings of a new teacher. It's not easy tending to high school students, but I have found that with each trial, I've learned something. It might not sink in immediately, but eventually I am able to recall the experience and learn from it.

I am at my mid-way point for my first year of teaching. What does that mean? Well, I survived the first 6 months. So far. That is, until last week. Lately, things have been occurring at my school, most of it is semantics and irritable occurances. But, this time it was something more. Something serious.

Last week, following the unfortunately incidents at Santee, Ca. and Williamsport, Pa. high schools, two incidents occurred at my school. First, a student felt compelled to threaten another student's life. How? By telling this kid that he would, in essence, shoot up the school. How does that make me feel? Although I held a tough exterior for the other students, I was nervous. Probably more nervous than scared. I was concerned about the kid who made the threat. I was worried about relatiation. I was concerned about the long-term and short-term effects on our little rural high school. Most of all, I felt helpless. How could I protect these kids in the event someone DOES show up armed and dangerous?

This brings me to the second event which occurred the following day. In the midst of an unusual morning meeting, the teachers left a private meeting area to hear murmurings of a bomb threat amongst the students. Bomb threat? What bomb threat? I told the students that we had a meeting about the student from the day before, not about a bomb threat. As far as I knew, there was no such animal.

Boy, was I wrong. Not more than 10 minutes later, the fire bells ring. We gather into the hallway, where I'm told by another staff member that I should make sure I have my purse. My purse? I had it, but a student had neglected to bring her's with her. So, I went back for her purse.

Once outside, I noticed that the kids were unusually concerned. The time of this "fire drill" has already exceeded the standard 3 minutes. As time dragged on, the cold air created discomfort among the students. As I walked back and forth along the sidewalk, I encouraged them to huddle (single-sex) to keep warm until we were allowed back inside. I was continually asked if it was a fire, was it a bomb threat, what was happening. In my concern to prevent mass hysteria, I opted for the safe "white" lie. I told them it was most likely a student who pulled the firealarm, and we have to wait for someone from the police department to reset it. As I look over my shoulder, I notice that not only were police cars arriving, but detective vehicles. Now I was getting concerned.

Well, I decided to keep them calm by downplaying the incident. Even though I noticed that even the secretaries were emerging from the school to stand (against the building) in the freezing cold with us. I knew immediately what this meant. I think I knew it before the questions began. We were having a bomb threat.

Bomb threats are different now than when I was in high school. When I was in high school, they'd send us out into the parking lot, search the school, send us back, and forget about it. No one would actually PUT a bomb in our school, it was the thrill of the chase. Someone felt compelled to be stupid and call in a threat to get out of class. After 21 bomb threats, we were quite annoyed. Especially for my senior class. We didn't graduate until the end of June.

The kids were herded into the gym, which I wasn't quite sure of its safety. We were told by the police that the gym was secured, but it didn't take the panging sensation that something wasn't quite right here. If the gym was secured and the rest of the building was not, then how were we safe?

Many students began to question the validity of this "safety" notification. Parents arrived, notified by scared students via cell phone. Suddenly, we were overwhelmed with parents coming INTO the school. Their prime intent was to grab their kids and run. In my eyes, mass hysteria began.

We were unskilled in emergency situations. I had just made my hundredth comment about this to the administration the day before. Here we were, over 500 students, 40 teachers, and 10 staff members standing around not sure what was happening.

Overall, we look back and try to decipher what happened and how could we change it so it would be better controlled next time. It is very hard to work through something like this, especially on the tails of other violent events.

In the end, there was no bomb. Over 75% of our student population went "home." (Most of them enjoyed their day off, whereas a small minority were truly upset and scared.) We were left with barely 100 kids and a staff wondering why we were all there. In hindsight, we wonder what we could have done differently. I would've opted to send them home until everything was searched completely. Lockers were missed, ceiling tiles neglected. We had to search our own rooms.

I still feel uneasy about the whole thing. I know that Monday will be interesting, nothing short of clean-up for a student's "bright" idea. I hope they are caught and prosecuted to the full extent. We cannot allow these kids to think that by calling in a threat, or threatening others with violence, that it can be condoned. Nor will it be an easy way to get a day off. We have to crack down, prosecute, and ensure the safety of ALL our students.

 

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