As my students return to class this week, the newest equipment needed for school lockdowns will be there to greet them. It was delivered to my 11th-grade Advanced Placement Language and Composition class in the fall during a lesson on how to construct a thesis. My juniors cheered its arrival and everyone jokingly asked for the right to try the “safety device” first.
My public school classroom, like many others in Ventura County — and most counties in California — now has its very own poop bucket.
There are few indicators of public surrender that can be applied to an entire country, but it seems clear that the placing of primitive portable toilets in classrooms speaks volumes regarding the mindset of U.S. officials on the issue of gun violence in schools.
My bucket of preparation speaks for all to hear: “Shooting in schools is here to stay, so let’s just accommodate.”
California is one of many states where school district officials are placing portable toilets in classrooms to be used during lengthy lockdowns due to active shooters.
The classy buckets have a working lid, a surprisingly comfortable seat and are filled with all the correct plastics (floor mats, gloves and bags) to ensure a sterile environment while used in a classroom — while hiding from armed assailants trying to murder children and the adults who teach and care for them.
The country has toyed with the idea of arming teachers, hiring veterans with assault rifles as guards and increasing police funding to have armed officers on campus. The politically polarizing idea of gun control has been bandied about, but to no avail.
In the face of a rising number of school shootings over the past decade, the country is still without a means to stop these events. Many schools have increased campus security and trained teachers, supervisors and students the survival tactic of “run, hide, fight.” “Run” away from shots and off campus if it is clear. “Hide” in a place with locking doors and maintain silence. “Fight” when all other options fail because the alternative is death.
Lockdown drills are unnervingly common and when the fire alarm goes off there is no evacuation: Everyone freezes and waits to hear an announcement giving clearance to evacuate, ignore or lock doors.
The training and precautions are necessary but a site-by-site answer is not enough. School districts are apparently seeing the futility of waiting for the government to come up with a way to help prevent or stop the murdering of children with firearms while they are at school.
It is simpler to deliver portable poop buckets to teachers.
There can be no more clear public indicator that we live in a country accepting of gun violence than supplying schools with places for kids to relieve themselves in class while waiting to see if they will be shot instead of simply imprisoned for their own safety.
More depressing than the delivery of the bucket was the easy acceptance from the students. Today’s high school seniors have never gone to school without lockdown drills. My students acutely understand the need for our bucket, especially after the Borderline massacre in Thousand Oaks in 2018 and the Saugus school shooting in Santa Clarita a year later.
Active-shooter drills are as familiar to them as duck-and-cover nuclear bombing drills are to the baby boomer generation. Sadly, my students also understand the futility of drills aimed at thwarting mass shooters.
Most schools weren’t built to keep children safe from bullets. Most classrooms have one wall of windows facing outside. If the school is well maintained it may have a curtain that can be closed quickly, but it is hard to create the illusion of an empty room with bells that sound the beginning and end of class and a daily schedule that can be easily found online.
Many schools have closed campuses with locking gates and clearly defined perimeters, which can make it harder to escape. Many of my students are more than capable of quickly climbing a fence but not everyone can. A teen’s survival should not depend on how fast the student can get over a gate designed to be hard to scale.
I do not have combat training. Soldiers can undergo months of high-intensity training and still not feel prepared for their first live fire. The idea that a teacher can be quickly and easily taught how to secure a room and guard an entrance from an armed perpetrator is absurd. It is a last-resort move, an act of desperation.
Students and teachers and parents are left to hope that no one takes aim at their school. It feels like all we really have are hopes and prayers and poop buckets.
Thomas Smith has taught for 10 years at a secondary public school in Ventura County.