When I was a child, I remember the fire drills and earthquake drills we practiced faithfully throughout the year. We never had cause to have need of the skills we used in the drills in real scenarios, but we were prepared. We knew where to meet outside the school for a fire and that under our desks was the best place for an earthquake.
A couple years ago while living in Alaska, my children had need of their earthquake drill training when an earthquake hit during their school day. It was fairly minor but it did do a little damage to the school.
I’m grateful that my children had this experience because it showed me some holes in the planning for these situations both for kids with disabilities and those without.
We usually conduct these drills with the idea in mind that our children will be in their classroom when disaster strikes. However, if you enter a school on any given day, at any given time you will find children everywhere in the building. What do our children do if they are in the hallway? The bathroom? In music?
During the earthquake my children went through at school, one of my children was in the music room. There are no desks in the music room. Our kids had no idea what to do because they couldn’t hide under desks and this caused a lot of anxiety for them.
My other child was in the bathroom. He has special needs. Many of the kids with special needs are more likely to not be in their classrooms than their peers when something happens. This is because they go back and forth to the Special Ed room, Speech, and other places within the school all day long. Likely they will be in a hallway somewhere in the school if something happens.
Does your child know what to do if they aren’t in class and a fire, earthquake, or someone intent on harming them is in the school? Whether they have disabilities or not, I’m betting you are going to answer no. Add to that, having special needs and the picture gets grimmer. Schools need to figure out what that alternative plan is, and all of our children need to know what the alternative plan is.
Maybe your special needs child is routine driven, and that child’s routine is broken due to the drill or a real-life event. They need to be as quiet as they can due to an active shooter, but that goes against everything their body is telling them to do. Suggestion- Keep lollipops in the classroom just in case. This will help fight off meltdowns due to a change in routine and keep them quiet. Yes, it’s a little bit of sugar but it just might save their life because many of our kids will stop a meltdown in a heartbeat at the offer of sugar. And those kids who can’t stop talking? A lollipop helps that too.
Develop a plan for all students to know what to do should the drill or a real event overtake them and they aren’t in class. You are in the hallway? Duck into the nearest classroom. Active Shooter and you are in the bathroom? Climb up on top of the toilet and be as quiet as can be, then they will be less likely to know you are there. Many schools are now having their kids bring in disaster kits in case they were to get stuck inside the school for an extended period of time or overnight. Some basic easy to eat food, a letter from a loved one, a flashlight, depending on your child a change of clothes or medication would also be in order just in case something should happen.
These are just some suggestions off the top of my head. We want our kids to stay safe in every situation. Bring these holes in your school safety plan up at your next PTA meeting and ask your school officials to help find solutions to these areas that are often overlooked. Together we can make a school safer.