Parkland, Fla. — As a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, it’s hard for me to believe that the school on TV is mine. No one believes a school shooting will happen to them until they are scrambling to find their friends and family. In the end, 17 families were not able to find their loved ones.
As Albus Dumbledore, the wise headmaster of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, said, “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” My teachers are the light. Through a combination of training and determination, they calmed the fear of some and saved the lives of others. When schools across the country lower their flags and share our darkness, they should also share our light. Maybe heroism can’t be taught, but preparedness certainly can be. Every teacher should have training for a school shooting like mine did.
On Wednesday, I took that message to President Trump at his White House listening session with students and parents from Parkland. The next day, he announced his disapproval of my idea that schools should have more active shooter training. If I had known he felt this way, I would have told him my story.
Fifteen minutes before the dismissal bell, the fire alarm rang and my class was evacuated after an administrator came on the intercom and gave the order. By the time the administrator made the announcement to take shelter in classrooms, we were too far away to turn back. So we kept going. The entire time, teachers were calling for their students to stay close as they tried to count them all. The teachers were calm, so the students tried to stay calm too. My teacher for that class, Ms. Hitchcock, told us to keep walking. It was reassuring when she took attendance and the entire class was present. Ms. Hitchcock provided order in a moment of chaos. I knew at least some of my friends were safe.
Our school regularly has fire drills (as we did the morning of the shooting), tornado drills and lockdown drills. Just six weeks ago, my teachers did a training session on active shooter situations, known as Code Red. All doors must be locked, lights are turned off and students are kept in the classrooms away from windows. For any type of emergency or drill, teachers must account for all their students. After the training, the teachers discussed with the students in each of their classes what to do. We were told where to hide and how to evacuate.
Not every school has the training we do. Eighteen states do not require their school districts to develop emergency plans, according to the Government Accountability Office. In the rest, 59 percent of districts reported difficulty balancing emergency planning with other priorities. There is no priority higher than saving lives.
My teachers’ training saved lives. Teachers frantically yelled for their students to go back into classrooms, saving some who were unknowingly running toward the shooter.
Mr. Gard, my math teacher two years ago, evacuated his classroom due to the fire alarm that went off just before the shooting started. But he immediately pulled the students back into his classroom closet when the Code Red was declared. He turned off the lights, locked his classroom door and counted his students. Mr. Gard knew what to do and he saved lives as a result.
At the sound of gunshots, one of my teachers last year, Mr. Rospierski, hurried students into locked classrooms, a protocol reinforced in the teacher training sessions. Then he stayed in the hallway to guide eight stranded students away from the shooter, who was in that same hallway.
My high school is not the only one to benefit from training for a situation like this. Three months ago, an elementary school in Northern California blocked a shooter from entering classrooms using similar protocols and saving countless lives. Every district can make itself safer through similar training.
Active-shooter training is not the panacea to end school shootings. But it is an essential part of keeping schools safe. Whether one supports arming teachers, an assault weapons ban, or any other measure to reduce gun violence, everyone should see that active-shooter training should be part of a program to address school shootings.
President Trump is hosting governors from all 50 states to discuss school safety. I urge him to talk to Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, who has proposed increasing the amount of training and drills for active shooter scenarios. I ask him to think about my story. I ask him to reconsider his position on this issue.
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