I have shied away from writing about my own teenage children that I made myself in this space. They have a right to their privacy and I don’t want to violate that. I love them and respect them and their independence, even if they are THE WOSRT™.
Last week, though was out of control and this story is more about the world that teenagers have to face than my kids specifically.
Back in the olden days of the late 80s, the biggest threat I faced while attending high school was getting caught up in a hallway fight, or being written up for being tardy to class. My friends and I faced all the normal friendship and social challenges that every adolescent faces and I had to stare down the dysfunction of my home life, but school was predictable, regular, and even boring. Go to class. See friends. Take tests. Repeat.
Today is very different.
My boys Carl 17 and Lance 14 attend a suburban Virginia Secondary School. The school houses students from grade seven through twelve and has over nearly 4,000 students in total.
The boys like the school very much, are involved in activities, sports, and clubs, and are generally happy there.
Last week though….
Monday – 4/16 No school. There was a workday for teachers to end the third quarter. The boys slept late and relaxed.
Tuesday – 4/17 A student was on PCP in the library.
Wednesday – 4/18 A student brought and distributed pot brownies to friends. Lance, a freshman, came home and told me he had heard that a student had brought a gun to school. I assured him that we would have heard something from the school if that were true.
Thursday – 4/19 The boys arrive at school to find a huge security presence. Security staff, police officers, and others are all over the building. The word is that some boys had told friends that they planned to shoot up the pep rally that was scheduled for that afternoon. (Why would any school hold a pep rally on a Thursday at the end of the day?) I start getting frantic and panicked texts from both boys. I start calling the attendance line at school to tell them that they boys are leaving school RIGHT NOW. I’m communicating with the boys and my husband through frantic texts and phone calls. April 19 is the anniversary of Waco and the Oklahoma City Bombing, so I am always nervous that day. The boys leave school at 9:30 am along with many of their fellow students. It’s not remotely worth risking their lives. We receive an email late that afternoon from the school saying that there was a threat, but that it’s been investigated and deemed not credible. We are not reassured.
Friday – 4/20 After much consideration and trepidation, the boys go back to school. It’s the anniversary of Columbine and the day of a national walkout to protest lax gun laws. I get a call from Lance at about 9:30, “Mom, there’s a fire at school, and I can’t find Carl.” He found Carl and we found out that the fire was the result of a student setting fire to a toilet paper dispenser in one of the bathrooms. The students are terrified and angry, and those feelings are going to get discharged somehow. Setting fire to some toilet paper seems pretty mild.
How much do you think these kids learned last week? Academically? Absolutely nothing.
However, they did learn again that their school is a place to be fearful. It’s a place where violence is threatened. It’s a place that they need to flee to avoid dying.
I don’t ever remember feeling unsafe at Hampton High School. Never. The only thing I remember fearing was embarrassment and getting poor grades. That’s it. I only fled the school to go to McDonalds or 7-11 for something incredibly unhealthy to eat or to take my friends to a comic books store or home.
I do know this: My sons have been changed by last week. They have been stripped of any sense of security in the place where their minds should be open and relaxed to learn. Their teachers and other adults cannot keep the safe. We have let my kids and all the other kids in this country down. No school has been untouched by gun violence. Schools are now all places where a shooting might happen. They are places where angry, frightened children and teens spend much of their time focused primarily on surviving their day. They are buildings full of people who don’t have control over their safety or their emotions.
School is absolutely and fundamentally not safe.
My husband asked, “Why can’t they just Skype into their classes from home?”
My sons want to know what to do with their overwhelming emotions and they want to know why these things are allowed to happen.
I don’t know what to tell them.
I got in touch with my local Moms Demand Action for Common Sense Gun Laws chapter and told them I want to be more involved. I’ve joined the Events Committee and will be pursuing more places and spaces to mobilize people to demand that lawmakers protect our kids and their schools.
It’s a start.