May-June 2019 | Parenting

Preparing for the Worst

When it comes to keeping students safe from an armed assailant, local schools say hiding in a locked classroom is no longer the only option

share this


At 1:15 p.m. sharp, Hamilton addresses the school over the intercom. “Excuse the interruption, but we have an emergency and there is a wolf around the school,” she announces. Kindergarten through third-grade classes are instructed to lock down in their classrooms—locking doors, turning off lights and barricading doors with whatever is available—while grades 4 through 8 are to run to a designated area outside.

The halls soon fill with teachers and children running through doorways and into the bright sunshine. Although the students are silent while in the building, many talk and laugh as they make their way to the designated spot. “What were you told not to do?” Hamilton sternly asks the group of 200 or so students when she catches up with them.

“Talk,” one student replies.

“Or laugh and scream. If that had been a true emergency, someone could have gotten hurt,” Hamilton says.

Seventh-grade teacher Ian MacInness admonishes students to take the practice more seriously and to focus on their surroundings. “We never know when something might happen,” he says.

Hamilton then dismisses the students, who quietly head back to the school.

The principal, who’s run the school for 31 years and is a former student, says she knows it’s important to be prepared. But she wonders if she should remind her staff to maintain perspective. She recalls how she and her classmates regularly used to duck and cover in preparation for an atom bomb attack.

“We act like it’s really going to happen,” she says. “You have to settle everybody down. We never got hit with a bomb in all those years.”


Julie Rasicot, who lives in Silver Spring, is the deputy editor of Bethesda Magazine.