Wendell Middle School practices lockdown procedures

But some students say they still don’t feel safe

aspecht@newsobserver.comJanuary 16, 2013 

Wendell Middle School teacher Adam Kingsmore makes sure all his 8th-grade math students are seated against the wall during a lockdown drill on Jan. 10.

PAUL A. SPECHT - ASPECHT@NEWSOBSERVER.COM

— While Wake County considers the lockdown simulated Thursday at Wendell Middle School to be effective safety procedure, some students saw it as an exercise in futility.

Principal Mary Castleberry said security protocols were followed and the school is prepared if a lockdown is needed.

Inside the classroom, though, fears derived from the recent massacre at a Connecticut elementary school seemed evident in students who doubted they were truly safe and suggested that, in a real lockdown situation, they might buck procedure and follow their own survival instincts.

Here’s the drill: when the principal says over the intercom that the school’s safety status is “code red” – meaning, in this case, that a gunman is believed to be on campus – teachers are to lock their doors, turn off the lights, cover the windows, and have students sit in a corner of the room away from the door.

For Adam Kingsmore’s 8th-grade math students, Thursday’s drill seemed silly and awkward at first. The lights were turned off and there was lots of inadvertent touching since about two-dozen teens were crammed in a small space. But it was easy to see why it’s been Wake County’s standard lockdown practice for years: students would be hard to see, hear, or harm from the doorway.

Still, when a police officer pretending to be the gunman tried to come through a locked door, some students had second thoughts about staying there. Giggles turned to nervous grins. Some put their heads between their knees, and others simply froze in the darkness.

After the “gunman” moved on, student Brittany Reid suggested the class run for it instead of sitting in the corner of the room “waiting to get shot.”

“If we scattered in all directions, (the gunman) wouldn’t know who to shoot,” she said.

While one student called Reid crazy – “Are you trying to get shot?” she said – several liked the idea. And some thought the class should flee through the back window since Kingsmore’s class is on the first floor. After all, if the gunman broke through the door, he could hurt many students at once.

Improving security policy

Russ Smith, Wake’s senior director of security, says he understands the students’ thinking.

“But it’s wrong,” he said in an Jan. 10 interview. “Research shows this is the best way to buy time and safety until law enforcement arrives.”

Not only that, schools can’t allow students to flee campus because they must account for them: “We’re responsible for them. So we have to always know where they are,” Smith said.

After incidents like the one in Connecticut, Wake always reviews what happened to see if it exposed any holes in Wake’s security policies, Smith said. He wouldn’t comment on whether the Connecticut shooting revealed weaknesses in Wake’s policies.

But he noted that this is the first year Wake County schools are required to perform at least two emergency drills a year in addition to monthly fire drills.Smith said there will also be a district-wide response in the not-too-distance future.

“There’s no perfect procedure. We do the best we can putting together a plan that minimizes the loss of life,” Smith said.

Back in the classroom, there’s no way of knowing whether 30 students would listen to one teacher in a time of panic.

‘They’d listen’

In fact, some said they wouldn’t have kept the classroom door closed, as Kingsmore did, when a student banged on the it and asked for help because he was trapped in the hallway with “the gunman.”

“I would have let him in,” said Vivian Campos. “We could have just opened the door, let him in, then shut it back real quick.”

“You can’t just leave them out there,” added Stacey Perez.

Kingsmore’s students followed his instruction during Thursday’s mock lockdown. But many expressed urges to act independently. Despite that, Kingsmore after the drill said he thinks the students would likely be paralyzed by fear in a real lockdown situation.

“I don’t think they would follow through on (their escape plans),” he said. “I think they’d listen.”

Kingsmore then emphasized that he would still follow protocol and protect his classroom with his life.

After all, teens can be unpredictable, he noted.

Later that day, a 16-year-old student at a high school in Taft, Calif. would bring a shotgun to class and shoot at some of his classmates. One victim was reported to be in critical condition. The Associated Press reported the shooting came just minutes after Taft High School announced new lockdown safety procedures.

Specht: 919-829-4826

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