Friday, March 23, 2018

Sophie's Choice

 While the crazy Legislature of Tennessee debate on how to build school security, put God signs in doorways of schools they fail to provide the one thing that would resolve or at least be preventative with regards to school violence is adequately fund education here.   The guns thing I am not going to bother with  as tomorrow the protest against gun violence will be happening and I am trying to decide which crowd will be larger - the anti or the pro crowd.  Here in Nashville they like to be competitive when it comes to anything in some sort of zeal or earnestness that I cannot fully grasp.

After another week in the schools where I watched the implosion of children in varying classrooms that transcended tragedy, I asked myself again: Would you help them in a crisis?  The answer is no.

The first thing I do when I walk into a classroom is remove potential weapons or tools for destruction. The whiteboard markers are my personal favorite as they are used to draw on the walls, the boards, desks, thrown across the room and caps left off to dry out. Since paper is barely funded I can at least do my part to help them out.  Pencils, crayons, paper are another element that I try to remove as they are either destroyed and/or used by projectiles.  All of which I do my part to clear up after after class as it is less a courtesy and more a worry about how it reflects on me.   Today no different as I wiped the board of a penis drawing and found a missing cap under a desk when one lone marker made it into the hands of a ninth grader of a prestigious magnet school. Well not too prestigious as I have subbed there before and the kids are quite segregated and the class was dominated by black faces as this is what they mean by integrated schools - white kids in advanced placement classes and black kids in others.  The composition of a class tells me all I need to know about what they are achieving and more importantly not.

I came home to find packages but one was opened and the insides removed. It was a 40 buck TV switcher to allow for Games/Apple TV/Etc to replace the one I had that only allows one connection and has no audio connection.  I simply returned the envelope and box (as the thief did even take it out of that) and will get credit as Amazon is gracious in that aspect.  The irony was a $175 dollar sweater from Neimans was there along with a large antique from Etsy sitting adjacent to the Amazon package.  But you see the thief was a kid from I suspect the dump school a block away and he was looking for shit to steal.  Amazon packages are the big number ones as they are small and easy and it was not the first time this has occurred.  A shelter is across the street and my neighbor both times has seen kids about age 12 running down the street with packages in hand.  Police do not answer the calls anymore and the video camera I have enables me to watch them steal it.  I am not sure what I could do if I caught them as few people here help anyone.

And when he shared with me his attempt at intervening I appreciated it but I said I am just returning the packaging to Amazon via their locker system and changing from now on how I receive packages.  All must be signed for or delivered to their local stores for pick up.  It is not worth the hassle to try to hope for the best anymore in this city where trash is not the garbage on the street but the people who live here.  Yes that is hard but truth always is.

This week again watching children implode for reasons that boggle the mind you realize that kind of behavior is truly tragic but that it is also out of my pay grade and job description.  So as the protests begin I am there in spirit but not in body. I have difficulty connecting to people here as each exchange and conversation are marred with stupidity, arrogance, ignorance, racism, classicism, homophobia, pick an "ism" and "phobia"  and you pretty much have the culture of fear that dominates here.

So when I read about the Teachers of Parkland I was impressed they wanted to do more than what was their job description and save lives of the same kids who demean them, mock them, ignore them and respect them and learn from them.  I truly always focused on those final two and felt that I could only do my best and those who wanted it would take it and I offered it gladly and hoped the others could at least get something out of it.  But in reality you can only reach some of the people some of the time so you accept that and do your best to reach them all.  **And yes I mean reach, teach is something completely different.  Reaching was always above my pay grade and job description but then I used to care about all my students to at least teach; however reaching them is an entirely different lesson.   But, here I don't even give my name as the less they know me the less I can care. 

US teachers receive routine training on what to do when a gunman attacks – but chaos during the Florida shooting threw procedure into disarray

Oliver Laughland and Lois Beckett in Parkland, Florida
Fri 23 Mar 2018

With the crack of bullets still ringing around the corridors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, Mary Trizzino unlocked the door to her classroom to see who else she could save.

The 65-year-old mathematics teacher already had five students cowering inside her room, and she knew that opening her door was breaking protocol. “But I just got such a deep feeling I was needed,” she said.

As she peered out into the hallway she saw fifteen students searching desperately for a place to hide and quietly ushered them inside. As she closed the door for the second time, she looked all of them in the eye and gave a short speech she still finds difficult to retell: “I’m telling you from the bottom of my heart, a shooter has to go through me before they get you.”

American teachers now receive routine training about what to do when a gunman attacks their school. They are instructed to keep their classroom doors locked, hide with the students out of sight, and stay bolted in until law enforcement enter the room. The goal is to make classrooms appear empty, so the gunman will pass by.

But the chaos during the massacre in Parkland, Florida last month, which left 17 students and teachers dead and more than a dozen injured, threw procedure into disarray.

As thousands of students poured into the hallways of school buildings after the fire alarm sounded within seconds of the first shots being fired, many teachers were forced to make split second decisions. How could the school go into code red with so many students out of their classrooms? At what point should they lock their doors?

“You’re faced with an impossible choice,” said journalism teacher Melissa Falkowski. “Do I hold the door open, and put the kids that I have in here at risk, or do I close it and leave those kids out in the cold?”

Trizzino was one of the teachers lauded for breaking the rules. Her door had been locked for the first five minutes of the code red, but when she opened it again, she spotted a group of 15 students trapped in the corridors searching for somewhere to hide. She ushered them in as they thanked her for saving their lives. About 50 feet away - in the Freshman building next door - the 19 year-old gunman, Nikolas Cruz, was still opening fire.

Ashley Kurth, a 34 year-old culinary arts teacher, kept her door open for around a minute and a half after code red was called. She pulled dozens of students inside to safety as they ran unwittingly towards the Freshman building, a few feet away.

As the sound of gunfire echoed around her, unsure where the shooter was and hearing from students a second shooter may also be on campus, her heart pulsed as she crouched by the door grabbing pupils as they ran past.

“The entire time I was shaking, it was sheer adrenaline that kept me there,” she said.

You’re faced with an impossible choice. Do I hold the door open, or do I close it?
Melissa Falkowski

She locked up during a lull in the chaos, bundled the group of around 60 children into a storage room and waited over two hours before the police arrived. “I was able to shut my door. But it got to the point when I was standing there, it was very uncomfortable,” she said. “When you see a lull like that there’s only one of two things that’s going to be happening. Either the shooter is coming towards you or there’s nobody left to run by.”

“Opening or closing a door… I feel it should be a personal decision,” she said.

Cowering with the children among cups and paper plates, Kurth watched live feeds of the shooting on Snapchat. She says she saw the moment that geography teacher Scott Beigel died in the massacre.

The 35-year-old was killed as he kept his door open.

Just a month before the shooting, teachers at Stoneman Douglas underwent updated training in active shooter procedure. They were played the 911 call from the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre and reminded that many of the 26 teachers and elementary school pupils who were killed that day died in unlocked classrooms.

Teachers were told to keep their doors locked at all times during lessons, and, during an active shooter crisis, to lock the door immediately and not open it. But some teachers who appeared to have followed that procedure to the letter were later attacked by Parkland students and parents for locking students out.

Jim Gard, a math teacher at Stoneman Douglas, was accused by one of his pupils, Josh Gallagher, of locking the majority of his students “out in the hallway to be slaughtered” after he closed his door, and labeled a “coward”.

Another student, Conor Dietrich, agreed, writing on Twitter. “As one of the kids left in the hallway, I want people to understand how terrifying and defenseless I personally felt. The person I had to rely on left us to die and that’s not okay,” he wrote.

Gard, who did not reply to interview requests from the Guardian, told a local newspaper that when he closed his classroom door, “I looked back down the hall and no one was around – no one.”

Later, as his students hid in their classroom in the dark, he heard a banging on the door, but by the time he walked over to the door, the noise had stopped.

“I told the kids we can’t let anyone in,” he told the Sun-Sentinel. “You have to close the door.” None of his students were hurt in the shooting, he said.

Other teachers, including one who was inside the Freshman building who lost a number of her pupils in the shooting, have also been criticised by parents for purportedly not doing enough, according to multiple teachers.

“The teachers who are being criticized for not letting hundreds and hundreds of kids in their room, they were following district procedure that had just been told to us three to four weeks prior,” said Sarah Lerner, an English teacher in an adjacent building to the shooting, who was another of those to keep her door locked after closing it with 15 students inside.

“I don’t think they did anything wrong, I understand the parents and the kids were upset, but they have to realize that by leaving the door open longer, they’re putting everyone in the room at risk.”

Teachers had been instructed to pass down the lockdown rules to pupils at the start of every lesson in the weeks after training. Falkowski, the journalism teacher, put it bluntly to her students: “This is a terrible thing for me to say to you, but if you’re not here, I can’t let you in.”

The implications of the instructions left her feeling uncomfortable.

“This isn’t even a conversation that a teacher should have to have with a student,” Falkowski said. “I don’t think we should be faced with that decision at all, and yet society can’t seem to come together to solve this problem, to stop it from happening.”

Dewey Cornell, an education professor at the University of Virginia and one of the country’s leading experts on school safety argued: “We have to stop putting teachers in these terrible and impossible situations.” The key, he said, should be devoting more resources and attention to preventing violence. “We cannot turn every facility into a fortress or have armed guards at every door,” he said.

Ernie Rospierski, a 36-year-old history and geography teacher, was working in the Freshman building where Cruz opened fire. He lost three students from the class he was teaching that afternoon and was grazed twice – once on his cheek and once on his hip – with bullets the gunman had intended to kill him.

He and his students had evacuated their room at the sound of the fire alarm, then turned back to their classroom when they heard gunfire, leaving a few of them stranded in the hall as the gunman approached. Some of Rospierski’s students had escaped into other classrooms with doors left open.

“If it wasn’t for those people willing to keep the doors open a little bit longer, we could have had more kids [killed],” he said.

He instructed his remaining students, hiding with him in an alcove, to run toward a stairwell as the shooter momentarily struggled with his weapon. The teacher then slammed the stairwell door behind him and kept it shut with his foot as the shooter failed to pry it open. After a few seconds, Rospierski himself fled down the stairs.

“I’m very happy some people didn’t follow protocol 100%,” Rospierski said. But if he had been inside a classroom, faced with the decision of whether to keep his door open, he said, “I don’t know for sure what I would do. I’d like to think I’d hold the door open a little bit longer, but I don’t know about re-opening the door.”

Mary Trizzino, the statistics teacher, said she believed it was her duty to lay her body on the line should Cruz have entered her classroom. Despite her severe arthritis, she had planned to dive for the shooter’s feet while a senior year student, armed with a golf club the teacher kept in the closet, would attack his body.

We’re not soldiers that are trained to lay down our lives for people and to jump in front of bullets
Ashley Kurth

Football coach Aaron Feis, who died throwing himself in front of students as the shooter opened fire, appears to have believed the same thing.

But many teachers at Stoneman Douglas, including those who acted with spontaneous selflessness, said that it was unfair America should expect its teachers to be heroes, that this was the wrong way to deal with an epidemic of school shootings.

“We’re not soldiers that are trained to lay down our lives for people and to jump in front of bullets,” said Kurth, the culinary arts teacher.

Rospierski, who repeatedly took risks to protect his students from gunfire, said that was not a choice he should have been forced to make.

“This is going to sound kind of bad, but yeah … the school kids are mine, and I’m very, very protective of them, but I like me, too. And nowhere did it say, when I signed up to be a teacher, that said ‘Oh, yeah, by the way in case of an attacker you’re going to have to shield all your kids with your own body,” he said.

Many Parkland teachers – even those who are gun owners and support Donald Trump – have rejected the administration’s proposed solution to school shootings: arming teachers.

Rospierski used to teach hunter safety and concealed carry firearms courses, making him an ideal candidate for the additional armed security role Trump had suggested some experienced staff could take on.

But he called the president’s proposal to arm teachers “the cheap way out” and “the dumbest thing they could do”.

“I’ll never carry a gun and be a teacher,” Rospierski said. If teachers were required to carry guns, “My wife and I are looking for a new occupation.”

“I didn’t sign up to be a soldier. I signed up to teach kids. I’m not going to have reading writing and arithmetic and life and death.”

“Teachers are to teach, not to kill,” he said.

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