Standing out front of my girls’ public school at pick-up on a warm spring day last year, just before the furor of kids erupted out of the building, a mother came up to my little gaggle of parents and said something that, though I couldn’t have known it at the time, changed my life: “Your daughter was so well-behaved during the lockdown drill yesterday.” At first I smiled and thanked her for the compliment. Then it hit me. “Lockdown drill? What the hell is that?”
This mom was happy to explain that she just happened to be helping out in the kindergarten classrooms when representatives from the Department of Education unexpectedly showed up and announced that they would be conducting a special drill to prepare students in the event of a gunman in the building. My heart drooped. She went on: “All the kids were corralled in the block area out of sight, the classroom doors were locked, blinds drawn, and they all had to be quiet. They were so quiet. I couldn't believe it. Obviously they had done it before. Then, the DOE guys came and jiggled the door, kind of pretending to get in, and the kids had to stay quiet through that as well. You would have been really proud.”
I wasn’t proud; in fact, I felt like I might throw up. This was not something I wanted my then 5-year-old (or my 7-year-old) involved in. That much I was certain.
Even before I learned about the lockdown drills, my husband and I were already having misgivings about our kids’ daily existence in public school—from the overcrowding to the testing. Was there time or space for them to just, you know, frolic? Wither mirth? But it was the thought of my youngest daughter, innocent and already spooked by everything from small dogs to imaginary robbers, being hunted in her own school that finally galvanized us to act. Since we couldn’t afford tuition for even one of the kids at any of the Brooklyn private schools, we decided to go off the grid.
Our kids have spent the first four months of this school year at a “homeschooling collective” with five other kids and a teacher we hired. Instead of test-prep, the students roam the park with a choreographer who finds mushrooms through dance. (Really.) They do more meditating than arithmetic. (Also really. In January, our older daughter will have four one-on-one sessions with a math tutor to help her keep up.) Now as we are almost to the school year’s halfway point, my husband and I have started thinking seriously about what we will do next year, and public school is back on the table. After Sandy Hook, lockdowns are no longer a real factor in my decision-making process.
I can’t imagine ever teaching my kids to “play dead”—as that mother had gleefully told me she had on that spring afternoon—or buy them bulletproof backpacks (apparently all the rage at the moment), but my position on lockdown drills has softened. I see them now as a necessary evil. (Though if the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre has his way, school, with armed guards and lockdowns, will be depressingly like prison. If this happens, we are definitely remaining rogue.)
I don’t think the drills really traumatized my kids, as I had once imagined. Believe me: I conducted covert inquiries to see if their pint-sized psyches had been warped. But the school hadn’t used the word “gunman” with my youngest, and she seemed to feel similarly about lockdown as I had about earthquakes drills growing up in California. According to my 7-year old, it all felt like a game and was kind of “exhilarating”—her word, which even though I’ve come around on the lockdown drill, I’ll never forget.
Catherine Crawford is a writer living in Brooklyn. Her book, French Twist: An American Mom's Experiment in Parisian Parenting, will be published by Ballantine in March.