WENDELL — 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.
Heres the drill: when the principal says over the intercom that the schools 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 Kingsmores 8th-grade math students, Thursdays 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 its been Wake Countys 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) wouldnt 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 Kingsmores 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, Wakes senior director of security, says he understands the students thinking.
But its 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 cant allow students to flee campus because they must account for them: Were 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 Wakes security policies, Smith said. He wouldnt comment on whether the Connecticut shooting revealed weaknesses in Wakes 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.
Theres 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, theres no way of knowing whether 30 students would listen to one teacher in a time of panic.
In fact, some said they wouldnt 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 cant just leave them out there, added Stacey Perez.
Kingsmores students followed his instruction during Thursdays 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 dont think they would follow through on (their escape plans), he said. I think theyd 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.