As the “Code Yellow” drill was announced over the loud speaker at Sonoma Valley High School last week, the juniors in Room J-15 were cheerful and chatty, but they did have a lot of questions for their advisor, math teacher Michelle Clark.
“What do we do if we’re locked out, since the teachers aren’t supposed to open the door after they lock it?” asked one.
“What is the point of the secret (‘all clear’) phrase if the students know it and if the shooter is a student?” asked another.
“What happens if the shooter pulls the fire drill to get us all outside?” asked another.
“Why do you need to take our phones?” asked another.
Clark has been teaching for 15 years and she can’t recall ever having conversations quite like these ones with her students.
But times have changed. Already in 2018 there have been 14 school shooting in the United States – most tragically, the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, which left 14 students and three teachers dead.
Then gun violence hit home in the North Bay this week when three veterans home counselors at Pathway Home in Yountville were taken hostage and killed by a former patient, who took his own life in the ensuing standoff.
No one is immune to the seeming epidemic of gun violence in America, and institutions need to be prepared. Especially schools. According to gun-control advocacy group EveryTown.org, there have been 290 school shootings in the U.S. since the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in 2012.
As Vice Principal Doug Watenpool’s calm, clear voice announced the commencement of last week’s drill, Clark quickly locked the exterior push door with a hex key but admitted ruefully that she doesn’t have a key for the other door to her classroom, the one that leads in the high school’s No Name Café. And as she pointed out the blinds that would be drawn in a Code Red – the term used if there’s an active shooting on campus – she noted that the other wall of windows in her classroom has no blinds.
With two walls of easily breakable glass windows, the room didn’t look tremendously secure.
“Classrooms like these are pretty vulnerable,” admitted Sonoma Valley High School Principal Kathleen Hawing.
That said, when asked what she thought of the idea of arming teachers, Michelle Clark snorted.
“It’s a horrible idea,” she said. “As teachers we are juggling a million responsibilities, and they expect us to be a sniper too?
During the classroom drill, Clark provided examples of a Code Yellow situation. Maybe a rabid dog is loose on Broadway or police are looking for a suspect downtown. In this case, teachers are instructed to maintain as normal an atmosphere as possible.
In a Code Red, Clark said, danger is imminent.
“We would make ourselves as invisible and quiet as possible, lights off, door locked, shades drawn, phones taken away and turned off,” she explained. “We want no one to know if we are there.”
The school guidelines say that once all students are accounted for, the doors must be locked and no one else should be admitted. If a fire alarm goes off during lockdown, they are instructed to stay in the classroom.