A joke of an alarm goes off, and everyone in the cafeteria goes silent. Suddenly, a mad rush of students crosses the quad.
“I thought either something is up or someone’s selling free ice cream,” one of my teachers said, reflecting on the set of events.
When I heard a running student scream “gunman,” I realized this wasn’t a joke. A few seconds later the loudspeaker announcement said, “this is a lockdown.”
The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office ordered a precautionary lockdown on the HHS campus on Apr. 3 after an armed suspect was arrested near the school during lunch.
April 3 was a reality check for HHS and for FUHSD. Luckily, there was no active shooter in the vicinity, and police were able to handle the situation quickly. But the scare showed us the areas where we lack in preparation should an emergency occur during lunch.
There was immense confusion regarding the differences between a “code red,” “run, hide, defend” and “lockdown.” The last students were told, the “run, hide, defend” name replaced the previous “code red” term. But we’ve never heard “lockdown” before.
Teachers unfamiliar with the term “lockdown” did not barricade their classrooms. Imagine that situation if there was a real, active shooter on campus.
Students received mixed messages about what they should do. In an interview with The Epitaph on Oct. 25, dean Steven Puccinelli said the following after the run, hide, defend drill:
“In a real situation, running is your first option, get off campus.”
So, naturally, several students ran off campus, as trained. This is what the run in “run, hide, defend” denotes. I was one of those students, but as I ran through the staff parking lot, a woman told me I should go back to campus and find a classroom.
The woman had her keys in hand and appeared to be entering her car. I asked her if she could fit students in the car with her. She refused, and we all continued to evacuate campus.
I have no way of knowing if this was a teacher, staff member or parent. Of course, there is no obligation for any adult to drive students off campus, even in an emergency situation, but the fact that I was misinformed to return to campus was alarming.
Students were receiving mixed messages from staff: the lockdown announcement told students to go to their fourth-period class, some were told to run off campus, others were told to go the nearest classroom.
Even more concerning is that students did not recognize the alarm, and many teachers were unfamiliar with the sound as well. Teachers I spoke with said they thought there was something was wrong with their speaker system upon hearing the buzzing sound.
The “run, hide, defend” drill that took place earlier this year did not feature this alarm. Why not?
The key word here is protocol. We need a standard, recognizable alarm for each emergency and a set procedures for lunchtime emergencies.
Following the all clear announcement, there was confusion as well.
For a school conducting countless surveys on student wellness, it should be obvious not to ask students to return to class for anything other than a discussion or debrief. Several students were forced to take exams and quizzes minutes after the all-clear. This is shocking and unacceptable.
Phone calls to parents asked students to return to campus, while emails from the district said students were cleared to go home if they were already off.
What’s most troublesome is every message students received was indirect. Why did students not receive a blast email informing them of the situation? Why did students not receive emails asking them to return to class?
The only communication from administration students received was a summary email sent over an hour after the all clear, which was after school ended.
While students who did not attend sixth or seventh periods were given an unexcused absence, principal Greg Giglio wants students to let him know if a teacher is being unreasonable about material missed in class. Still no word on how the unexcused absence will affect truant students.
I will say this: in comparison to the run, hide, defend drill that took place last year, we’ve made huge strides. But Apr. 3 was proof that we have a long way to go.
And with that, I rest my case.
The Bar-On Brief is a weekly column that runs Thursdays.
Follow Shauli Bar-On on Twitter @shauli_baron