My youngest has the flu. On Wednesday morning, after being up all night with Nathan, I woke John to get ready for school. I explained to him that Nathan was sick and really needed his sleep. We needed to be quiet. John’s response? Extra squealing and running in Nathan’s room to turn on the light and play, despite my pleas for quiet. That was the same day as the school shooting in south Florida.
As I watched the news of this horrible event unfold, it brought to mind my own experience. In 2002, I was a first year teacher in a rural school in North Carolina. Like all schools, we practiced tornado drills, fire drills, and lockdown drills, but never expected to have to use any of them. Imagine my surprise when a true “CODE RED” was called across the intercom system. I followed procedure and got my students to the safest area in the room. We sat in silence as I waited to see my principal or a sheriff’s face in the window of my classroom. Once the “all-clear” was given, we learned that a hunter had walked across our campus with a rifle, and we had never been in any danger. Better safe than sorry.
What do these things all have in common? I realized that day, as it brought back my own memory, that my autistic son has no concept of a need for quiet, and absolutely no concept of danger. Would he follow lockdown procedures? Would he remain quiet? Would he try to wander away in the event of an evacuation? Would his behaviors put others at risk? I can’t answer any of these questions. While predictable in so many ways, John can also be completely unpredictable in others.
There is one question I can answer – Will the school staff do everything in its power to keep my son safe? The answer is yes, it will. Over the years, I have had the pleasure of knowing the remarkable teachers and staff from so many schools. If you ask what the most important part of their job is, the answer is always safety. Day to day, the adults involved in our schools are looking for ways to be better, to be safer, to protect our babies like their own. That day, crouched on the floor with my students, I knew that I would give my life to keep them from harm. I have faith that my child’s school feels the same.
Now is the time for faith. The time to believe that our schools are doing everything in their power to provide our children with a safe environment and preparedness for emergencies. Now is the the time to reassure our children that school is a good place. The time to be patient as new procedures are implemented. The time to talk to the decision makers in our school system. And now is the time to hug our children a little closer while we pray.