Sunday February 25, 2018

Educators should be talking about kids, not guns

Educators and education leaders should be spending their time talking about kids; how to make them successful, how to meet their educational needs, how to understand and help fulfill their hopes and dreams. Administrators should be meeting to talk about ways to make their schools run better, sharing best practices and learning from each other and from central office leaders. At the Oklahoma City Public Schools principals’ gathering on Feb. 15, the meeting began instead with a discussion about what to do in case of a mass shooting situation.

Oklahoma City Public Schools emergency management and safety personnel were on hand and Acting Superintendent Rebecca Kaye led a discussion about what happened in Parkland, Florida, the day before, opening dialogue about keeping kids safe in any emergency situation. Kaye pointed out that the safety of students is the highest ethical responsibility the district has. Much discussion ensued about the need for safety drills and reminders about safety policies. A simple procedure like keeping classroom doors locked can save lives. And, locked vestibules are also critical to keeping our schools safe. We don’t have secure vestibules in every school, but plans are in place to finish the 48 facilities that still need them.

Kaye also sent a district-wide memo reminding all staff of appropriate safety procedures as a reminder to remain vigilant and to focus on and practice the training they have all received. Wearing school badges at all times, reviewing site safety plans, conducting training drills, using correct entrances, exits and check-in procedures were just some of the reminders sent.

Despite all the safety measures in the world, bad people with guns can still find their way into schools. And, of course, EF5 tornadoes can still hit schools. District safety personnel answered difficult questions about what to do when emotional parents show up to pick their children up when tornado sirens are going off. It is no easy thing to turn parents away, but once schools are locked down for any emergency situation, they need to stay that way.

Questions were asked and answered at the principals’ meeting with pragmatism, professionalism and empathy. The discussion was somber and authentic. These leaders take their jobs very seriously and it was all business in the room. Their dedication was clear and profoundly impressive.

It is clear that all of us need to have safety plans prepared for our organizations. Safety over freedom seems to be the call of the day and we have to accept that reality. Spending time with educators who have to think about emergency plans for teaching children about what to do when a shooter is in their school is something entirely different. Until all measures are taken to stop the madness with gun access and to address mental health issues in our citizenry, six-year-olds will have to learn how to hide from a gunman in the place they should always feel safe: their school.

Read Mary Mélon’s original NewsOK editorial.

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