The bell rang, dismissing us to B lunch, and after my students made their way toward the cafeteria, I headed to the teachers' lounge. I grabbed my usual lunch (salad) out of my usual fridge (the one on the left) and sat at my usual table (the second one) with my usual lunch buddies (fellow English teachers).
Then our lunch became most unusual.
One of our colleagues informed us that we were in lockdown. Yeah, right! Wouldn't we have heard something if that were true? It didn't take long to realize that yes, the door leading to the hallway was locked. Soon we found out that our audibly shaken principal had ordered the lockdown over the PA, the PA that we can't hear in the lounge!
The faculty's been told that we will never practice a lockdown, so we knew this was real. What we didn't know yet was why we were in danger, and in those first few minutes, it was scary to think of our campus' labyrinth of halls and corners and crannies. And it was lunch! Our cafeteria was full of sophomores and juniors, and the parking lot, which seniors had just deserted for off-campus lunch, would be refilled within half an hour. I felt pretty safe in the lounge, but our kids—my kids—were out there!
We had a TV on, and we took the absence of breaking news as a good sign. We could see no police presence at the school entrance: another good omen. Since we knew we wouldn't hear announcements, we called to establish a connection with "the outside" (actually with our counseling department right across the hall) so we could find out something—anything!—if any news came from admin. Not 10 minutes later we were relayed the "good" news: The danger was outside, not on campus.
As time passed, we teachers nervously assessed our predicament. Our consensus was that we had lucked into the primo deluxe lockdown suite, right there in the lounge. Water cooler? Check. Bathroom? Check. Computers? Check. Good conversation with friends? Check. Two refrigerators we could pillage if we were stuck in there for hours? Check! What we didn't have? Restless and hungry students who were confined and missing their lunch break!
We could imagine the wild frenzy of texting going on between students and phone calls to parents, but really, students were safer locked in our building than if they ventured off-campus. Our cohorts at the other district high school and even the alternative school were emailing, wanting to know what was going on, but for the longest time, we didn't know what was up ourselves!
About an hour into our supposed 35-minute lunch, the local newspaper website posted a brief that clued us in. A savings and loan just to our west had been robbed, and the suspect took off on foot directly to the east. He'd headed our way! Since he was armed, the police requested the lockdown, and of course, our school complied.
An hour and a half after the lockdown began, we got word that it was over. The suspect had not been found, but the police felt the danger had passed. The B lunch students went back to class, the C lunch kids finally got to eat, and we all had plenty to talk about on our way back to normal.
(I know this is really corny, but I noticed, really noticed, all the kids I passed on my way back to our J lab, distinctly thankful to see them safe and sound. See? I warned you! Corny!)
Once we resumed class, I found out that one of my girls had been in the restroom when the lockdown was announced. As she ran back into the hallway, a teacher had grabbed her and given her refuge in her room. I heard about the seniors who had returned to campus during the lockdown who were ushered into the gym for safekeeping.
Since Columbine and then in this year since Virginia Tech, I've run through countless worst-case scenarios over and over in my head. I know that there's no absolute protection, no perfect safety for students and teachers. But I also know that in case of emergency, my school will respond quickly and with confidence, and we, as professionals, will do everything we can to take care of our students.