“Safety First!” is a mantra by which all educators live. The health and safety of children of all ages has always been paramount in how Harrisburg Academy’s teachers and administrators plan. In more recent years, security has been added as a focus to the health and safety of our children due to the increased concern of school shootings.

In a recent conversation with a parent, I realized that “Safety First!” has created an unexpected consequence. In that conversation, a mother of a child in our Early Childhood program related to me her child’s perception of what occurred during a crisis drill we held at school. The crisis drill that had been staged that day was a lockdown drill that we practice with students so that they know what to do should there be an intruder in the building that could put everyone at risk. In a lockdown drill, students remain in the area where they are; faculty and staff lock the doors, have the children sequester or hide themselves so that they cannot be seen from any windows or doors, and remain quiet until the “all clear” notice is given.

The child reported to his mother that not all of his classmates fit into the small space where the children were instructed to hide, and that two children were hidden somewhere else. The mother’s question to me was, “How were the children who had to hide somewhere else selected?”

I assured the mother that first and foremost, all the children were safe. In that particular classroom, the children are encouraged to hide in the classroom’s bathroom. Not all the children were able to fit into the bathroom during this drill, so two were hidden elsewhere by the teacher, out of view of the classroom door and windows. I clarified that hiding was the goal, and where to hide was secondary — but that all children were hidden effectively. I also assured the mother that there was not (and there never will be) a system to designate which student was hidden in a given location. This is determined completely arbitrarily based on where children are located within the classroom when the alarm activates.

This is where the unexpected consequence became illuminated to me — the mother asked me why we did not inform parents when drills had occurred and what actually happens in our drills. My answer was “Safety First!” What I found myself explaining was the reasons why we don’t announce drills in advance, notify parents of a drill that took place or even give some specifics about the drills themselves. We don’t notify our community in advance because we want our students to be more naturally prepared to deal with an emergency that obviously would not be announced. We don’t notify parents of a drill that took place because we don’t want it known when and how we practice our drills, so that we can keep that information from becoming more publicly known. We don’t share specifics of drills for the same reason. The less everyone knows about when, where, and how we do drills, the less likely that information would find its way into the wrong hands. The irony is that although we are practicing crisis drills monthly for the health, safety, and security of our students, we don’t share the details of what we do to keep our students healthy, safe, and secure!

We conduct crisis drills that cover sheltering in place, evacuating the building, reverse evacuations by returning to the building, evacuation off-campus to an alternate site, and concealment. I assured the mother in my conversation and I am assuring you now, should there ever be an incident that is not a crisis drill, parents would be informed of what happened and how the safety and security of our students was handled.

Any other time, should you find yourself hearing something from your child that is confusing or disconcerting about this topic, please don’t hesitate to ask about it.

Remember, “Safety First!”

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