During my most recent teaching assignment, I experienced my first procedure that was entitled “Shelter in Place.” As someone who began going to school in the 50s and 60s, we were doing air raids and fire drills at that time, and I have experienced my share of fire drills in the nearly 20 years that I have been teaching.
But this procedure was probably the direct result of shootings and other violent occurrences in the schools and elsewhere. The entire process took less than ten minutes. We had to lock the doors, make all of the windows dark, and have the students quietly sit on the floor until it was over. I’m sure that they weren’t told why this was all taking place but it was obvious that the one piece that was not provided was letting them know that everything was okay and they had nothing to fear.
The little boy who was to my left was clearly frightened and confused about the exercise. As soon as it began, he put his head on my knee and wrapped his arms around my leg. Because I had never seen this child before (a third grader), I have no idea if he was consistently emotional or fearful. But I got the clear message that the process of shutting down the room and guaranteeing absolute silence required a greater explanation.
Yes, I understand that we don’t want to frighten our children and let them know that this was a result of protecting us in the case of a violent act in the school. At the same time, I feel that we should have explained why we were doing this – that it was in fact practice and that there was nothing that would take place that was scary, dangerous, or worthy of concern.
Kids are generally smarter than we think. Why not say something like, “This is just a short event that is similar to a fire drill except that we don’t go outside. Sometimes, it may be necessary for all of us to stay in the classroom for some reason, and we need to be prepared to stay here and take care of each other.”
I’m not in charge of the school administration so it’s really not my responsibility to orchestrate the “Shelters in Place.” But we do need to make it less threatening and we do need to keep our kids comfortable by disclosing purposes in ways that they understand. Shalom.