It was time to head home after a fun children’s story hour at our library, when my 18-month-old daughter and I were surprised by a loudspeaker announcement that school lockdown procedures were being implemented.
Since the library was directly connected to the neighboring school building, all of us inside were included in the school lockdown. We hustled back into the room we had been trying to leave and, along with a group of high school students, found a spot on the floor away from windows. A teacher directed everyone into the safest area while other administrators drew the blinds, turned off the lights, and told us all to turn off our cell phones and be as quiet as possible.
My mind was racing — what was going on? Were we caught in the middle of a violent incident? How was I going keep my daughter quiet and happy until it was resolved? Could we be stuck here all day? How could I let my husband know what was happening?
With the help of the efficient teachers who were implementing the lockdown procedures, and the kind-hearted high schoolers sitting nearby, my daughter and I made it through the 2-hour lockdown with relatively little drama, and were back home in time for a long nap. But, there were a number of things we learned from this experience that will help us be more prepared for the future. I also spoke with a local teacher, Kat Salemno (also one of our own blog writers!) and the Director of Student Affairs at Missisquoi Valley Union Middle/High School, Steve Messier, to learn more about school lockdown procedures and how you and your kids can be prepared if you are caught in one.
What happens during a school lockdown?
The goal of a lockdown is to move all students and staff to safe areas as quickly as possible and clear all pathways for law enforcement to secure the building. This usually means moving everyone into locked, quiet, and darkened rooms away from windows and doors; the idea is that, in the worst case scenario, this makes it as difficult as possible for an active assailant to find people before police are able to intervene. Students and staff are prohibited from using electronic devices during a lockdown; this helps prevent a student from sending a message to a friend or parent that might reveal their location, in the case of an assailant situation where a specific person is being targeted.
At most schools, a teacher will be in charge of implementing these procedures within his or her classroom as soon as an announcement is made about a school lockdown. Depending on the situation, on-site administrators may walk the campus to ensure that all rooms are actually following procedures correctly. Schools work closely with local law enforcement during a school lockdown, including the state police, local sheriff’s office, Border Patrol (depending on the school’s location) and even a member of the local police force posted on-site at the school, which is the case for Missisquoi Valley Middle/High schools. These groups all use a unified protocol during emergency events to guide their reactions and involvement.
Why do schools implement lockdown procedures?
There are a number of scenarios that can cause a school to implement lockdown procedures, including violent threats issued against the school or individuals at the school, concerns about potential safety violations on the school campus, and trespassing by individuals who are not students, staff, or authorized caregivers.
Because there is a such a broad range of potential situations that could lead to the implementation of lockdown procedures, those in the lockdown may not have any information about what is going on. This was the case for me when my daughter and I were stuck; we found out the full story much later when we heard the press briefing from the police. This was nerve-wracking for me at the time, but is often necessary to ensure that everyone is moved to a safe location as quickly as possible.
How do schools prepare for a lockdown?
Schools are now required to hold lockdown drills every month. One benefit of this policy is that students all now know exactly what to do and can even help teachers implement lockdown procedures.
Additionally, administrators and teachers may receive training from a number of sources, including the Agency of Education, the Department of Public Safety, the Governor’s Institute on Public Safety, and local law enforcement partners. Kat Salemno and Steve Messier both described to me the newest training that will be implemented at Missisquoi Valley in the coming year, which reflects research on evolving emergency situations. For example, in certain situations, it may make sense to evacuate one part of a school campus immediately while another area goes into traditional lockdown mode due to its location relative to an intruder on campus. This sort of training will give teachers and administrators a variety of options and responses to use in an emergency situation, resulting in a more well-balanced safety protocol.
What should you do if you are in a school lockdown?
If you find yourself caught in a lockdown, be cooperative and calm — the teachers are not allowed to let you leave, even if you have a baby or toddler with you. I was very glad that I had my daughter’s diaper bag with snacks, water, and coloring book to keep her busy; another caregiver caught with a baby was able to borrow water from a student to mix some extra formula.
For students, lockdowns should hopefully feel routine, since they regularly have drills on these procedures. Having a water bottle and snack with you is still probably a good idea, though.
What should you do if you find out that your child is in a school lockdown?
While it is certainly difficult to find out that your child is in a real lockdown, school administrators ask that parents please follow two main guidelines: refrain from calling, texting, or emailing your child directly and refrain from driving to or attempting to enter your child’s school. Ringing or vibrating phones can compromise the safety of an individual in a lockdown, and can lead to the circulation of inaccurate or partial information that is not helpful to law enforcement. As for traffic, heavy congestion around a school can slow down the law enforcement representatives and first responders who need to get to the location as soon as possible.
As school administrator Stephen Messier told me, “School officials and police have clear protocols in place for parental notification and the dissemination of information to the public in a timely manner, and hope that parents would trust and allow for this process to take place, even though it is extremely difficult to resist their desire to check in on the safety and well-being of their own children during a very stressful and potentially dangerous event.”
Being caught in a school lockdown was not very fun for me and my daughter, and it is unfortunate that we all have to worry about the possibility of violence at our children’s schools. However, thanks to the efforts of our school administrators, teachers, and law enforcement, we can feel somewhat reassured that those who work with our children are doing everything possible to keep them safe. Kat Salemno and Steve Messier encouraged me, and any parent, to reach out directly to your children’s school to learn about their exact procedures and preparations for school lockdowns, as they would love to have your support and interest as they continue to work at keeping our schools safe.