During my daughter’s six years, I’ve been afraid I’d drop her, break her neck, pinch her finger in a car door. Afraid she’d choke on a paper clip, ingest poison, fall down stairs, poke out an eye. Afraid she wouldn’t make friends, wasn’t eating enough vegetables, would grow up hating me.
I was never afraid to take her to school.
The shooter in Newtown, Conn., took 27 lives last week, robbing far too many moms and dads of their precious babies. Words can’t even describe that loss.
But I can’t help feeling like the rest of us have – in a way – been robbed too. Robbed of the simple security that when we take our kids to school, they’ll be safe and happy in their classrooms.
Instead of thinking about my daughter’s reading skills or what is on the lunch menu, I have found myself this week thinking about the layout of her classroom. Are there closets? Does the door lock? Is there enough room in the bathroom for 18 children to hide? Is there an exit to the outside? Have they practiced a plan on where to go if they have to escape? What happens if they’re in the gym or library when an armed intruder enters the building? How fast can law enforcement get there in the event of an emergency?
We hand our babies over to educators every single day. And 99.999 percent of the time the worst thing that happens in an elementary school is that somebody skipped in lunch line. But after what happened in Connecticut, we now have to consider the tiny gazillionth of a percent chance that our worst nightmare could come true.
Our community is not immune. We had a near miss several years ago. I was an education reporter for the Daily Mail covering a routine school board meeting back in July 2003 when a disgruntled maintenance worker named Rusty Bright opened fire with an AK-47. By some miracle of God and the quick-thinking of a handful of administrators, no one was killed. One teacher was shot and injured. Bright fired three times, but had the capability of firing off 75 rounds. There were 20 people in the room.
After that incident, the school board offices on Elizabeth Street beefed up security, having an officer stationed at each meeting.
I’m wondering what, if anything, will happen here in the wake of Newtown to make us feel better about leaving our children at school.
Do we build a fortress? Install bulletproof glass and metal detectors? Put armed security guards or police officers at the front door? Design closets that will hold 20 kids? Force the bad guys to turn in their guns?
Or is fear and uncertainty our new reality? Do we just hug our kids extra tight every morning and hope and pray for the best?
I don’t know the answer.
What will it take for you to feel safe dropping your children off at school?