Garfield High School, where I teach, had a school-shooter threat back in February, and it terrified us all.
School shootings have somehow become common and normalized, yet there’s been almost nothing done even after this threat. Not to single out any one school – Seattle’s schools as a group have made almost no change in procedures, training, awareness and other kinds of teaching for students or teachers or administrators or parents. I find it hard to fathom. What will it take for us to respond?
I’ve written to the Seattle School Board, to now-former Superintendent Larry Nyland, to my principal and to the Director of Schools who oversees my school. Only one of my emails received a reply. A month ago I wrote to the new Superintendent Denise Juneau, and again got no response.
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The one reply I did get, from Nyland and board member Leslie Harris in the spring, was vacuous and included these lines:
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“I want you to know that I and the rest of the School Board take staff and student safety in our schools very seriously. I know that Garfield and all Seattle Public Schools practice safety drills to best prepare everyone in the event of an incident. Is this enough to save lives in a real emergency? Probably not. However, we are following the recommendations of school safety experts and will continue to improve our safety systems.”
The lock-down drill we practice twice a year is clearly not sufficient, and officials acknowledge it openly. We have had zero trainings. When the threat happened, school officials locked all but the main doors for entering and put security at other doors. They told us to keep our blinds closed and our classroom doors locked.
But, over time, teachers have stopped doing that, and the security people aren’t at the doors anymore. Sometimes security is visible at the main doors, sometimes they aren’t. We were told the other doors would be armed with alarms, but that didn’t happen. It’s been 10 months now. Clearly, school officials do not take this very seriously and, clearly, they are not doing what they can.
I don’t know the right things to do. I’ve surveyed teachers and students, whose thoughts range from feeling terrified, to feeling that it won’t happen here, to wanting to avoid a culture of fear from more armed security and shooter drills, and I sympathize with all those sentiments.
But it’s very clear to me that we have to at least think and talk seriously about what to do. Failing to act is frightening and unacceptable, and I dread the day Seattle Public Schools is in the news for a catastrophe. Shame on the board and our district leaders for this failure to act. The schools, the district and the community should have the conversation and take it seriously.