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Op-Ed: As a Los Angeles teacher, I want you to know what a school lockdown feels like

A "victim" of a school active shooter training is seen in a hallway during a drill.
A “victim” is seen in a hallway as law enforcement and first responders participate in a regional active shooter training at Deering High School in Portland, Maine, in 2019.
(Derek Davis / Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Two days after the school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, we had a 15-minute lockdown at the Los Angeles high school where I’m a teacher. A lockdown is when schoolchildren, their teachers and administrators have a dangerous threat at or near the school site. We close and lock all of our doors to the beautiful spring day outside and the jacaranda tree blooming purple; we shut our window blinds to the birds of paradise; we turn off the lights; we are quiet.

All people must enter a classroom immediately when a lockdown happens. If you wandered onto our campus at this particular moment you could think a shooting had already happened since it would be so abnormally, deadly silent for a school with more than 1,000 normally shouting, laughing, joking teenagers. But not during a lockdown. During a lockdown, it is QUIET.

In every lockdown, including this one, you wait for news of what is actually going on and then your school administrative assistant makes the announcement that this is NOT a drill. This means to everyone that this is SERIOUS and also SHUT THE DOORS now. Your heart pounds because there have been 27 school shootings this year in the United States and you are wondering if your school is next. And you see the fear in your students’ eyes and you feel the fear in your own eyes even though you try to remain calm and quiet, to not attract any of the millions of people with access to semiautomatic weapons to your classroom.

Federal law should raise the age to be able to buy assault weapons to 21, as it is for handguns and alcohol.

You eye the fire extinguisher thinking, “If I stand near it, could I blind the attacker and then bash them with it?” Because now you are supposed to not only be teacher/counselor/confidante/coach/cheerleader/entertainer/second parent, you might also have to be an action-movie savior who turns normal classroom items into weapons.

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During this lockdown, the school administrator sent a text to us saying there was possibly a student with a gun at the school next door. It’s enough to make you want to throw up, but you hold it together for the students. And because the school with the potential gunman is right up the street, you decide that taking your students and jumping out of the window and over the fence next to your classroom is not a good idea, so you shush everyone since they are getting squirrely. And because no one can go to the bathroom in this situation, guess how many people in a class of 30 suddenly need to use the restroom? Around seven. I have done the research on this one, trust me.

Eventually, after about 10 minutes of sitting in the dark, waiting silently with everyone in the room, thinking about the mass shooting that just happened in Uvalde, the principal’s voice came over the loudspeaker to tell everyone that the lockdown was over and the “potential threat is taken care of.”

But you know that is a lie.

Because there are still so many unhinged people with access to too many guns, too much ammunition and too many semiautomatic weapons.

We’ve become so used to mass shootings they don’t always shock us. But maybe, just maybe, recalcitrant Republicans will finally be motivated to act.

But this lockdown is over and you find you have tears in your eyes from the release of the tension, and some of your kids look like they want to throw up as well.

And everybody talks. It’s like talking reminds you “we are still alive” and even if you have nothing interesting or funny or smart to say, you talk because maybe your voices can speak into the void and change the future. Or maybe they can’t, but you can at least talk to remember that you are living and walking and breathing when there are so many young people who are not because of gun violence. Which, you remember suddenly, is the No. 1 killer of children and teens in the U.S.

This wasn’t even an active-shooter drill, which can feel more intense.

Maybe I’ll tell you about that the next time we have one. Because these drills that “prepare” us — the teachers and kids of America — for gun violence on our campuses, they happen regularly.

Why does a teacher now have to figure out how to protect and save 30 kids because at any moment a gunman could walk into our school? It is too much. It is too much of a burden on all of us. And it needs to stop.

Marisa Crabtree is a high school teacher in Los Angeles.


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