By Mr. Anonymous
Despite the low pay, general student apathy, and overwhelming parent criticism, working in education does have its benefits. I get to help students explore and understand new and exciting topics, my coworkers are wonderful human beings that love to teach, and my job allows me experience new things; no two days are ever the same. The situation I went through this past school year truly drives the last point home. The day in question started out as any other . . .
It was a Monday, meaning my students were still in an adolescent daze from the weekend. My morning classes had gone off without a hitch and I might have even put some useful information into the mind of a lazy teenager (impressive, I know). The entire mood of the school day changed between the 4th and 5th hour bells. I was chatting with some students near the door to my classroom about their weekend and…
“CODE BLACK! CODE BLACK! THIS IS A CODE BLACK!”
The secretary’s panicked voice boomed over the P.A. system and sent a shiver down my spine. She usually has the most genial and tranquil disposition. She never sounded this way. This was not a drill. I could feel it. Within a second I could feel it. I immediately told my students to clear their desks and get against the wall, out of view from anyone peering through the sidelight (the slim, full height window adjacent to the door frame). I then ran into the hallway where I met another teacher. We each yelled at students to run to the closest classroom. We were headed back to our respective rooms and…
“CODE BLACK! CODE BLACK! CODE BLACK!”
The secretary sounded even more nervous than before. I got back to my room, took one more quick look down the hallway, and slammed my door behind me, shut off the lights and secured my classroom from anyone that would attempt to enter. As I glanced to my left I saw 5 students cowering against the wall. I ran to my desk to grab my class rosters and the only item within reach that had any semblance of being a self-defense tool – a pair of scissors. I took my place between my students and the door, poised to stop anyone from doing these 5 students any harm. From the time the first Code Black call was given only 20 seconds had elapsed.
Silence… and DING! DING! DING! Time for 5th hour.
I will take a break from the action to explain a few things. For those of you who are uninitiated, Code Black is a term that warns faculty and staff that an armed intruder is on campus. In every school district that I have worked in or attended as a student, most “Code Black” procedures are boilerplate:
- Secure your classroom by closing and locking the door.
- Shut off the lights; close the curtains on windows or doors.
- Move students out of sight and as far away from the door as possible.
- Remain quiet.
- Wait for an administrator or police officer to unlock your door before emerging from the classroom.
This process may vary based on classroom layout, school district, and situational discretion, but for the most part these are the actions teachers are supposed to take in the event that a Code Black is called.
Now, back to my secured (locked, darkened, student-safely-relocated) classroom.
“Mr. Anonymous, is this a drill?” said one of my students.
“No… no it isn’t,” I whispered as calmly as possible. “Please try to remain quiet. Everything will be fine.”
I told my students to get out their cell phones and text their parents to let them know they are okay. I took out my phone as well, hoping that perhaps a mass text from the principal or superintendent had gone out. Nothing. I called my wife, a paraprofessional in the high school, to make sure she was all right.
“I’m fine,” she said quietly. “We’re locked in the conference room. I’m hanging up now. We’re not supposed to be talking on the phone.”
She was right, of course. Our Code Black procedure calls for absolute silence in order to prevent the armed intruder(s) from knowing who, if anybody, is in which classroom. But in the heat of the moment when I was worried about my wife’s safety, and a text message would not suffice, I felt that a phone call was warranted.
I grew anxious for information, which caused my imagination to head for the worst scenario. Are there kids dying on the other side of the school and I didn’t hear the gunshots? Was there a shooting at the elementary school in town? The middle school?
I took out my class roster for 5th hour and began to take a head count. I would have normally had 17 students in here, but 11 were gone for a Junior class activity, meaning I should have 6.
Crap. Where is my extra student? Was she absent? Caught in gunfire?
Before my mind could finish its extrapolation of horrendous possibilities, another student said, “She ended up in Mr. Blah Blah’s room when Code Black was called. She’s fine.”
Thank goodness for teenagers and cell phones. (Probably the last time I’ll use that phrase).
Knowing she was safe helped immensely; a respite of relief in a sea of uncertainty. But what the heck was going on in the rest of the school?
My students and I sat in silence for the next few minutes. Their fingers clicked noisily at their phones. I texted other teachers, but did not get any responses. They must have been busy dealing with their students. Or maybe they died. I wish I knew something. Anything.
“My mom says there are cops surrounding the tech ed. building with guns drawn!” one my students exclaimed. “They’re going inside!” This student’s home was near the school. Her mother had a very good view of the situation.
It was at this point that my heart truly sank. As teachers we know that this is always a possibility, no matter how minuscule the odds. I was 9 years old when Columbine happened. 17 years old during the Virginia Tech shooting. Sandy Hook occurred just last December while I was student teaching. I’ve read about this and I’ve seen the aftermath plastered on a television screen. But now it’s happening in my school, to my students. Nothing can prepare a teacher for that feeling of desperation and hopelessness.
As my 5 students began talking more loudly and frantically I could tell a few were about to panic. I reached inside and summoned my calm teacher voice. I soothed them back to silence the best I could. Meanwhile my right hand still gripped the scissors – my weapon of necessity, not choice.
The subsequent 10 minutes might as well have been days. If the shooter had been subdued in the tech ed. building, it would be hours before the officers were able to clear every room in the high school. And if it was a hostage situation it could last even longer. My mind settled in for the long run, contemplating who the attackers were. I narrowed it down to 2 students fairly quickly.
The silence was now slightly comforting. My students and I were a fair distance from the action. Assuming that there was only one shooter, and that he/she is now isolated, we were, most likely, free from danger. Knowing at least a sliver of information about the situation, however horrific it may be, was better than being left in the dark to panic. My prior ignorance was not bliss.
The audible click of the P.A. system interrupted our noiseless contemplations and prayers. A heavy sigh was heard, followed by the secretary’s composed and almost annoyed proclamation, “All clear. All clear. Everything is clear. Please return to your classes.”
Wait. Wait. Wait.
When cops are on the scene with guns drawn this is not how a Code Black is dismissed.
I looked at my students in confusion. I told them to stay where they are. I needed to find out what just happened. I stepped out into the hallway, shut the door to my classroom, and walked to the front office of the high school, scissors at the ready.
After a lengthy conversation with the superintendent and several other teachers, everything made sense. I walked calmly back to my classroom and told my students that things were going to be okay. I turned on the lights and opened the door. The rest of the school day went on without any more incidents. The End.
Oh. You’re still here. You read this far? Good for you! I apologize for the length; brevity is not my strong suit. If you find this story to be too fantastical or somewhat exaggerated, I can only assure you that I am telling it exactly as it happened. I am sorry that I cannot provide proof. I am maintaining my anonymity for obvious reasons.
(Do you really think someone would do that? Just go on the Internet and tell lies?)
I suppose I should explain a few things that I learned in the office.
Class is now in session. Take your seats. Face forward. Please pay attention. This will all be on the exam.
Now students (TTAG readers), in this lesson we are going learn about and discuss the following:
What’s the Rest of the Story?
Square Steel Tubing: Remington’s Newest Product of 2014.
The Strengths and Weaknesses of Code Black Procedures.
How to Prevent School Casualties.
Here is the same story from the superintendent’s perspective. He was sitting in his office, which has a large picture window overlooking the parking lot between the high school and the tech ed. building. The superintendent was sitting in his office talking to a woman from the local newspaper, when she suddenly pointed at a suspicious student in the parking lot. The superintendent looked out the window and saw a tall, hooded figure reach into the back of a pickup, retrieve a shotgun, and proceed to enter the tech ed. building.
Without delay, the superintendent ran out of his office. He told the Human Resources Director to call 911, told the secretary to give the Code Black announcement, and then entered the high school commons area to warn the students that were eating lunch. He burst out of the office and screamed, “Code Black!” and yelled at kids to get away from the entrance and into any classroom that is open. It was chaos.
Once the commons was clear, his fatherly instinct kicked in – his son had class in the tech building that hour. He ran out of the front entrance towards the tech building, but was cut off by police cruisers before he could get there. Cops jumped out and yelled at him to get back into the school. He complied and they rushed into the tech building. After several tense minutes they exited, looking pissed off, but relieved.
The hooded figure was a student from the welding class in the tech building (and yes he was one of the students I had suspected of being the culprit). He told his friends, “Watch this,” knowing full well the appearance he gave off. He then put his hood up, walked to his pickup, and took out 3 pieces of square inch steel tubing – 2 pieces that were 3 feet long, and 1 piece that was 4 feet long. He carried them across his body with one hand under the “fore end” and the other at the “grip” of the “shotgun.” His friends did not pay any attention and did not see his antics, but the superintendent sure noticed. (The superintendent, who is an avid hunter and sportsman, swears that the kid was carrying a Remington 870. I trust his judgment). When the police stormed the tech building all the students and teachers were forced to the floor with guns pointed at them while they looked for the shooter. It took several minutes to sort everything out. Once the police realized the truth behind the situation, and after they confirmed it with the superintendent, teacher, and students, they left the campus.
Thankfully, nobody was shot or injured. This situation could have been so much worse had it been a real active shooter scenario. The Code Black procedures that most schools have in place are adequate at best, and extremely flawed at their worst. I will do my best to explain what I saw as the strengths and weaknesses of my school’s Code Black plan.
- Teachers and students knew where to go and how to react to the situation. We trained and had drills in the past that allowed us to be prepared.
- The design of our school allows for students to find a secure location almost anywhere on campus. Albeit, the locks on most doors are less than stellar (see below).
- Prompt communication and response time by the administration and law enforcement. (I will discuss the police response further down). The P.A. system was also a very valuable asset.
- I was locked in a classroom with 5 teenagers and nothing to defend them with but a pair of scissors. I wanted nothing more than to have my CCW with me. But alas, state laws currently prohibit me from protecting my students to the best of my ability in an active shooter scenario. But I guess in the eyes of law makers a pair of scissors (or nothing in the case of most teachers) is a better defense than my S&W Shield 9mm secured on my person in my IWB holster with an extra magazine on my belt. I think a 6th step should be added to the code black procedures I listed at the beginning of this article: “6. Cower defenselessly in the classroom with frightened students and await your impending demise.”
- The doors are not intruder-proof. As I mentioned earlier, my classroom has a sidelight, which is a glaring weak point. If an intruder was motivated and angry, he/she would need nothing more than a blunt object or a gunshot in order to breech the security of the average classroom.
- Communication could have been better. In our Code Black procedures a mass text is supposed to be sent out by the administration that informs the school staff of the situation. I understand that this particular situation did not allow the superintendent to do so, but a backup or automatic mass text system should be on hand, ready to deliver vital information to classroom teachers.
- If someone really wanted to harm or destroy the lives of students, there are more holes in a standard Code Black plan than a block of Swiss cheese. There is very little in the way of deterrence. Nothing will stop an attack from happening; you can only hope the cops get there sooner rather than later.
While I appear quite critical of my school’s plan, it is only out of concern for my students’ well being. The plan is good, but not great. It turned out to be the best “drill” we could have asked for. The discussions I have had with students and colleagues in the weeks following the lockdown have been very positive and constructive. There has been an open dialogue in the school concerning safety and self-defense.
Also, I must say that the school district did a great job at public relations. No regional or state newspapers reported on the incident; it wound up being no more than a local scandal, which died down after a week or so. This is also why it failed to show up on the Daily Digest on TTAG.
The most impressive part of the whole ordeal was the quick response by law enforcement. From the time the superintendent told the HR Director to call 911, to the point that he was intercepted by police as he walked out to the tech building was less 2 minutes, probably around 1:35. That is an incredible response time. We had several law enforcement agencies respond to the call, including: the city police department, highway patrol, county sheriff, and BIA officers (we are near an Indian reservation). I commend them on their punctual and professional response.
“When seconds count the police are only minutes away.” In spite of the amazing response by law enforcement, this phrase still proved true. If I was legally allowed to protect my students with a firearm, I would be able to respond within seconds. If there were other defensively minded educators with me in the school, we would be able to create a formidable resistance against armed intruders, assuming we had undergone proper training, of course.
Will I ever be able to legally defend my students with a firearm? The answer is yet to be seen. The road to concealed carry within schools is long and arduous. It is rife with legislative potholes. Shannon Watts and Michael Bloomberg have set up roadblocks and detours along this crooked highway. The media have erected billboards which perpetuate the myth that guns are dangerous in the hands of everyone except the military and police. With patience, determination, and maybe a dash of providence, we may be able to navigate this treacherous path and arrive at a destination of common sense and well defended schools.
Probably the most important lesson I took away from this experience is, as things stand, there is no way to prevent student casualties, you can only limit them. This is a reality that we as educators, and Americans, need to come to terms with. Until we do something to deter the attackers, students are always going to be vulnerable to harm.
Tucked away in my classroom I felt mostly helpless. I could protect students in my immediate vicinity, but what about other students? What about my wife? My future children? Allowing teachers and staff to be armed would give them the opportunity to prevent any further loss of our nation’s most valuable asset – our children.
That about wraps up today’s lesson. Your assignment for tomorrow: write a 4 paragraph essay on the disadvantages of bringing a pair of scissors to a gun fight.