Lockdown: My Thoughts as I Cowered in the Corner

By Grace Geraghty, Editor in Chief

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“Are you locked down?” “If you hear a gunshot close to you, jump out the window.” “Idk if it’s real or not.” “Play dead if you have to.”

These are all text messages I sent to my younger brother, a freshman, who was hiding in the cafeteria while Niles West was on lockdown for nearly an hour on Mon., Oct. 2 due to an unspecified threat. And during this lockdown, nobody had any verifiable information to share, underlining a frightening lack of adequate school protocol.

In these situations, the lack of information makes everything worse. Especially when pretty much every single student crouched in a corner has a cell phone. With nothing else to do except speculate, we text each other, we snapchat each other, we check twitter for random updates from other classrooms’ hiding spaces. And that’s how rumors spread.

While on lockdown, there needs to be a method of communication for teachers and administrators to spread accurate information, so everybody actually knows what’s going on. We saw yesterday what happens when we’re kept in the dark: kids spread rumors about a shooter in the school; about police gunning down said shooter; about kids dressed in clown makeup (which turned out to NOT be related to the incident at all).

This lack of communication also leads to parent panic. I texted my parents frantically to tell them I loved them and ask if they knew anything besides the terrifying rumors I’d been hearing. This led to them turn on the TV to scan the news and contact friends who are police officers; many parents actually came to school during the lockdown to wait for their children by the front door because they lacked information about the situation developing inside the building.

When I left school with my friends after the lockdown was finally lifted, parents swarmed us as we walked out the front door, asking questions about what happened and whether or not we knew any specifics. And we honestly didn’t, which is a serious problem. When no students and no parents know what’s going on, it inevitably leads to panic and distrust — of the school’s protocol and its ability to keep us safe.

I understand that most of our Niles West administration was too busy coordinating with police at this time to let the community know the specifics. But what about District 219 administrators? There are people working in the administration building who 1) were not experiencing a direct threat and 2) definitely had the capability — and, further, the responsibility — to keep parents informed about the welfare of their children. This responsibility is magnified during potentially life-threatening situation.

Another thing that certainly didn’t help calm my fears in this situation was that parts of the rumors, as is usually true, were actually based on facts. There were students who came to school wearing clown makeup on Oct. 2, and even though their makeup was unrelated to the threat itself, hundreds of students made the not-too-illogical leap from “potential school shooter” to “killer clown.” This not only exacerbates fear and panic, but it also spotlights otherwise innocent students.

Why are students allowed to walk around with clown makeup on all day, but others are dress-coded for their Cubs hats? Not only is it disruptive to the learning environment on a normal day, it should raise a alarm bells among administration when someone is making a concerted effort to admire a movie character known for being a mass murderer. Or, even if students wearing clown makeup aren‘t admiring “IT,” such makeup is at best distracting, and at worst threatening, the day after a gunman unleashed his insanity on a concert in Las Vegas, killing 50 people and injuring hundreds more.

There’s a reason clowns are scary: when I can’t see someone’s face, I feel like I have no idea what they’re going to do. Clowns aren’t painting their faces for religious purposes or for homecoming spirit week. While in this situation clowns may not have been directly related to the threat, their appearance certainly added to the paranoia that gripped many of the students once pictures started circulating on social media. We all saw the fear that came along with the “clown epidemic” last fall; clowns are naturally, and justifiably, frightening to many people.

Serious changes to the school’s protocol need to be adopted in the event that — God forbid — something like this happens again. Teachers and parents need to be kept apprised of the situation as it occurs, in addition to the voicemails or emails that were sent after the fact.  School staff needs to recognize and report disruptive dress (or makeup, as the case may be) when it first appears, rather than allowing it to remain and evolve into rumors that place a lot of blame on innocents and intensify the panic people are already feeling. In the days when teachers, security guards, staff, and administration all carry cell phones, there’s no reason why accurate information can’t be distributed from the district office to those individuals directly in charge of our safety.