Yesterday, after a shooting downtown left four injured and the gunman still at large, schools in the area took the precaution of adopting a “Hold & Secure.”

I first found out about it when my kids’ school tweeted their status. Just as 9/11 flashes into the collective consciousness whenever a terrorist plot is mentioned, images of Sandy Hook now spring to mind whenever school safety and guns occupy the same sentence. I immediately recalled that morning, standing frozen by the kitchen worktop, whatever I was doing forgotten as I listened to the horror unfold via the newscasts. I guess it’s still raw and immediate in recent memory; it’s only been two months, after all.

Thankfully no such tragedy or loss of life took place here and the order stood for not much longer than ten minutes. Following police advice, things soon returned to normal – much to J’s annoyance, she was looking forward to an indoor recess.

As well as the tweets in real time, the school sent a note home with each child at the end of the day, with information about what occurred, and I got the lowdown from J as we walked back. She told me that all students stayed in their classrooms, the doors were locked and no one was allowed to enter or leave the building. She actually went and asked the principal about it afterwards when he was on playground duty. Curious, I asked her what he said,

“He explained there was a disease in the air in town and the school had to lock all the doors and windows to stop it getting in”

she told me. Satisfied with this explanation, she didn’t ask him anything else. Instead, between bouts of giggles, she went on to confide conspiratorially, that she knew what his first name was – she’d read it on the note.

The school protects parental discretion when it comes telling their children about potentially traumatic events, hence the imaginative explanations. I’ve written previously about the Skunk Lockdown – a practice run for what to do should a skunk get into school that was really a drill for a much more serious possibility.

There are 3 terms used by schools, police and media during situations that impact the safety of students and staff:

Lockdown – Potentially violent situation at the school
Hold and Secure – Safety situation in the neighbourhood, external to the school
Shelter in Place – Potential environmental hazard outside the school eg. gas leak or weather emergency

In any of these situations, communication with parents/caregivers is via numerous avenues – through websites, automated voicemail messages, radio and TV. During an event, phone use between students and parents is restricted – lines are kept free for emergency services.

While it’s scary that these steps are a necessary part of my children’s school life, the gratitude I felt towards the staff when I collected the kids was overwhelming. The awareness, planning and organisation that’s involved gives me massive appreciation for the job they do. After all, there are few things as daunting as being responsible for other people’s children.

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In the spirit of true sensationalism, media today are referring to the incident as a “mass shooting” – that’ll be good for everyone’s blood pressure then…