When Safety and Fear Co-Exist
- The Goods
- Published on Thursday, 20 December 2012 13:46
As both a parent of two elementary-aged children in the district and as a former Scarsdale Middle School teacher, I feel comfortable sharing with you what I know and what I believe about safety. Scarsdale schools do have in place a good security system, which was implemented after 9/11. It works as long as people do not prop open the doors out of laziness or for convenience. Teachers and students also have lockdown practices and the faculty conducts yearly drills with local police.
But you know all of this. You've heard it from Michael McGill and other officials. Rationally, we can say, the doors are locked, the teachers are aware of what to do. But, ultimately, we never really know what will happen in life.
And so that's why I say that I feel as safe as I possibly can feel about sending my children to school in a world where random, unimaginable violence lives.
To surrender to the fears I felt on Monday when I put my children on the school bus would have meant giving in to terror. I refuse to do that.
I do not want our schools to become prisons. I do not want there to be guards outside every door. I want my children, when they are older, to feel free to come and go on the high school campus, provided they don't cut biology class in order to get a sandwich at Lange's. I refuse to let terror rule my life.
That being said, since the school shootings in Columbine, there is not a classroom I enter without thinking, where would I hide the children? I have lived through scary days in school. On September 11th, I drew a map of Manhattan on the blackboard of my 7th grade English classroom and assured my students that their parents, if they were working on 75th street or near Grand Central Station, were safe.
I did not know that for certain. But I needed them to believe it.
On Friday, December 14th at 1:30 pm, I parked outside my own children's elementary school. I had just heard the tragic story coming out of Newtown and entered the Fox Meadow office in a state of distress. I was there to teach art appreciation to my son's 5th grade class. I was crying and needed to sit down. It was hard to breathe. I was ushered into the conference room where I talked with our principal, teacher-in-charge, and secretary. They brought me water and hugged me.
"If you don't want to be at school right now, we'll understand," Mr. Wilson said to me. "You don't have to teach."
To be at school, to teach, to be with my children – there was complexity to my distress. I felt shocked and grief-stricken, yes, but I also felt so overwhelmingly lucky in that moment. And I felt safe in my children's school.
In fact, there was no place else I'd rather be.
Columnist and blogger Julie Gerstenblatt writes with humor and candor about her life in Scarsdale, her friends and family, and the particular demands of motherhood and wifedom in modern-day suburbia. Read about her new book Lauren Takes Leave and keep up with the latest from Julie Gerstenblatt at http://juliegerstenblatt.com