Preparing for the first day of school after a long summer vacation has a certain routine.
With list in hand, my son and I load a shopping cart with the required supplies for each class: notebooks, folders, red and blue pens, etc.
Beginning the year with new pairs of sneakers and school shoes involves the discovery that my son’s feet are still growing. Size 13 here we come!
And a visit to the barber cleans up his carefree, summer style, leaving Joseph with a trimmed tapered cut. This look complements his wavy, thick hair nicely.
The completion of each of these innocent rituals brings him closer and closer to his first day of classes and his next year of change, growth and opportunities.
But this year I am afraid for his safety as he prepares to go back to school, more so than in previous years.
Normal and boring is good
My son stands before me, a young man with dreams and talents, an individual with a voice and soul, tall and strong — and vulnerable.
In less than two weeks on the first day of sophomore year, Joseph will walk through the doors of his high school with a knapsack strapped to his back.
His eyes will search the crowd for friends he has not seen in months and those whom he has chatted with online over the summer.
Perhaps he will even spot a girl or two who are prettier than he remembered.
Crisscrossing hallways, he will go from room to room, meeting his teachers and discovering the academic challenges awaiting him.
Eventually, his days will become a routine with assignments, friendships and extracurricular activities.
I want this predictable world for my son. I want him to have normal problems and normal victories. He is still only a child — a minor, if you will — who is not ready yet for the adult world.
Invasion of school shooters
It’s the loss of that normal existence — or his very innocence — through an act of violence that terrifies me.
The desperate cries for justice from parents whose children were murdered and injured in their schools remind me of how everything could change in a moment.
And it makes me angry.
How dare these shooters and murderers invade our schools and hurt and kill our children!
They want nothing but to destroy.
They want nothing but to avenge themselves for some ill perpetrated against them.
They want nothing but to fulfill some purpose or mission concocted by themselves or others.
They may have chosen their weapon.
They may have chosen their reason.
But they are not choosing to kill or maim my son.
School safety at work
Children can — and do — experience violence of all sorts in the home and community, not just at school.
But schools have a long-held perception of being safe places for children to learn and grow.
Sadly, that world doesn’t exist anymore for many people. In fact, it’s a dangerous myth that everyone should abandon for the sake of our children’s safety.
Out of curiosity and concern, I asked my son about how his school would handle an intruder and he shared the following:
“We have drills and stuff. Intruder drills. The teacher covers the windows on the door to the classroom and locks it. Then we stand at the wall next to the door out of the sight of the shooter. And the lights are off.”
When I asked Joseph what he would do if a shooter was present, he added:
“I would get down on the ground next to the door so I could hide, or I would flip a desk over so I could hide from him.”
I wasn’t entirely comfortable with these safety measures. For example, what would the teacher and students do if the shooter managed to get into the room? It happened in Parkland and Columbine and could easily happen again.
6 Ways to Survive an Active Shooter
Active shooter situations and the terror they give rise to do not have to incapacitate students and teachers, but they do bring out natural tendencies in people. Some people might fight back. Others may flee or simply hide.
However, most people don’t know how they will actually react, so here are some tips on how to be safe regardless of where you fall on the fight-or-flight spectrum:
Police recommend that students run from the source of the gunfire and hide. Fighting or disarming the shooter should be a last resort.
Darting from side to side and erratically in a zigzag pattern makes you a more difficult target.
Lock and block
Doors should be locked and barricaded with filing cabinets, shelves and desks. Another simple deterrent is placing the doorstop backward underneath the door. Even if the shooter bangs on the door, they won’t get inside and leave, giving law enforcement time to contain the situation.
Most classrooms have windows, a possible means of escape as long as they are on the ground level and big enough to squeeze through.
Police should be contacted and provided as much detailed information as possible. Every caller has a different perspective on the situation, which can help law enforcement in stopping the shooter.
Keep your cool
The best defense is remaining calm. Keeping your wits about you can help you stay focused and think logically.
Following these simple suggestions could make the difference between life and death.
Surprising research on school shootings
The Center for Homeland Defense and Security has a team dedicated to tracking school shootings in the United States. The center is located at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA.
The researchers have been compiling and analyzing data on shootings that take place in school buildings and on their campuses from 1970 to the current day. The information is derived from peer-reviewed studies, news and government reports, and nonprofits, among others.
Because it’s in an Excel sheet, the K-12 School Shooting Database can be arranged alphabetically or chronologically and is a great resource. The content focuses on “each and every instance a gun is brandished, is fired, or a bullet hits school property for any reason, regardless of the number of victims, time of day, or day of week,” according to the center.
In addition, the team created several graphs targeting certain results of their research based on information available to them at that time.
The majority of school shootings were found to have occurred during classes in the morning. Other dangerous times include afternoon classes and in the evening.
In more than 700 incidents, the shooter was a student.
School shootings spiked dramatically in 2018. The second highest was slightly more than half in 2006.
Of paramount importance to me is my son’s safety no matter where he is.
He — and every child — is entitled to some sense of security, especially when they are placed in the care of those responsible for them.
So many people are fighting to keep our children safe and I thank them.
They are protecting our children and providing them with a new normalcy of caution and awareness.
We can’t deny the world is a violent place with insidious people, but we must confront this violence in safe, practical ways.
We don’t need to be victims.
We have a choice.
On Thursdays, I share a blog about a day in the actual life of a single parent. Every fourth Thursday, instead of a personal post, I put together one where I assemble news on and about single parents nationally and globally.
I would love to hear from you! Feel free to send any comments and questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also on Twitter @parentsonurown and can be found by searching #singleparentandstrong.