10:55 am Dec. 17, 2012
Over the weekend, a principal at one public school in Queens emailed parents to assure them of the school's preparedness for a gun attack.
The email read, in part:
On the news, the reporters have been interviewing Sandy Hook students and staff who recalled how they hid in the corners of their classrooms and how teachers swept the halls and pulled children into their rooms before locking their classroom doors. This lock-down protocol is also one that is followed by all New York City schools. We practice this procedure many times during the year. When a lock-down is called, teachers move all children into the corner of the classroom so that they would not be visible when looking through the classroom door window. The teacher knows to turn off the classroom lights, pull-in any children from the hall or bathrooms, and to lock their classroom doors. Teachers know to stay in that position until an all-clear has been called.
When I emailed the city department of education to ask about lockdown drills and safety protocols in general, spokesperson Marge Feinberg responded: "We conduct safety drills to prepare school staff and students for different emergencies, including lockdowns, which is a part of our General Response Protocols."
City Councilman Mark Weprin, who sits on the Council's education committee and has children in public school, told me, "I'm sure this will be a wake-up call to a lot of people to be extra careful in what we do in case of an emergency."
But he cautioned against traumatizing children by overreacting, saying that it is important to "make sure the kids get under cover, make sure the kids know what to do, but do we want to go back to the '50s where it's duck and cover, like the fear of nuclear war, where we're going to be in fear of a terrorist? We don't want to create nightmares all over the city either."
(On Friday, after the shooting in Newtown, LaGuardia High School went into lockdown after a sighting of an unfamiliar adult, who turned out to be a copy-machine repairman.)
Some New York City schools were already accelerating their preparations for a Newtown-type situation in the days leading up to the incident. One public high school in Manhattan conducted its first-ever lockdown drill on Tuesday, three days before the shooting in Connecticut that left 20 children and seven school employees dead.
UPDATE: Here's an email to parents from Nancy Cabrero, the principal at P.S. 198 in Manhattan. The letter was also published online:
"This fall, the DOE implemented new protocols that focus on emergency preparedness in all NYC Public Schools. Every school currently has procedures for emergencies. Drills are conducted throughout the year to prepare our staff and students, and make improvements in emergency planning. Under the new General Response Protocol (GRP), every school will be conducting drills designed to help prepare all school communities for three different types of response to emergencies that may occur: Evacuation, Shelter-in, and Lock-down. Initial training was done in September and refresher lessons will be conducted throughout the school year."