I was recently one of two pastors in a circle with 12 middle school students when the kids began venting about how they feel at school. They attend school in 3 different suburban districts in Ohio. We were talking about different church denominations and I had explained that Westboro Baptist Church is in fact not a church at all but an organized hate group recognized as such by the FBI and denounced by both the Baptist church and the Ku Klux Klan. That led to conversation about hate and violence and school shootings. It was as if a faucet opened. The kids began pouring out their hearts to us about how they feel about going to school. Many times we had to play traffic cop getting two or three to wait their turn while another finished speaking. They talked for nearly 45 minutes.
I wrote down some of the things the kids said. As I was writing, I was thinking of how adults forever have been asking kids “what did you do at school today?”
Here is what they said:
“Safe? I don’t feel safe at all. Ever. And especially not at school.”
“What freaks me out is that during a lockdown, they lock all the classroom doors so if you’re in the bathroom, you’re just left there for the shooter like a sitting duck. That’s why I don’t use the bathroom at school hardly at all. I just hold it. All day.”
[several nodded in agreement]
“What they DO need to do is lock the front door. I mean seriously, why can’t they lock the outside doors? You can get in any door to our school at any time. A shooter wouldn’t even have to shoot to get in.”
“And add police. They should put police in every school.”
“I wish the teachers would patrol the hallways better. In between classes they never come out. It’s terrible. I hate being in the hallway. I hate changing classes.”
“Can’t they have like a panic button in every class that we could just push and the police would come? How hard would that be?”
At this point, a side discussion began in which one older boy was explaining to a couple of others how to trigger the sprinkler system in the school. “That will bring the police,” he said. The other students listened as attentively as I’ve ever seen 13-year-old boys listen.
“Also we need bullet proof glass. There’s so much glass everywhere. ”
“And why don’t they spend the money they raise on the Levy to keep us safer! They spent money painting our gym and buying art supplies and Nooks for everyone in one classroom. We don’t need that…we need bullet proof glass!”
One quiet girl, looking at her fingers mumbled, “I’d rather have bullet proof glass than air conditioning.” I asked her to repeat what she had said to make sure I heard her right. She looked me right in the eye and said it clearly. “The air conditioners don’t even work,” she added. “Maybe bullet proof glass would at least work.”
A boy playing with the strings on his hoodie added. “We really don’t even need windows. We’d probably be better off just getting rid of the windows all together.”
“I just hate the way they spend the money on stuff that doesn’t matter. Can’t they see we need things in place to keep us safe?”
“The teachers can’t even use the Smart Boards.” Yeah!!! Everyone agreed on this.
“Seriously…how much did they spend to put Smart Boards in every room that teachers don’t use that cover up the chalk board so you can’t even use that?”
“We have these lockdown drills all the time, as if a lockdown drill is supposed to make us feel safe or prepare us. We had a lockdown drill and we had a substitute and everyone is supposed to get in the corner and be quiet. But no one was quiet. They were all talking. Finally the substitute…he had this accent and dread locks…he looked at us and said, ‘you wanna make noise? If this ever happened , here’s what your noise will get you: the shooter will shoot you first.'”
The boy made a motion with his hand, as if aiming a gun and pulling the trigger. “Bam.”
Other boys chimed in talking about the dreadlocked teacher. They clearly loved him. They spoke of how much he made them laugh.
“But during that lockdown? He told us the truth. Everyone shut up after that.”
“I don’t think lockdowns are the answer though. They aren’t like some big plan that’s foolproof. They’re just the only plan they have.”
“Yeah…they won’t do much to keep us safe.”