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When My Daughter With Down Syndrome Had an Active Shooter Drill at School

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My two daughters have an ALICE drill at their elementary school. If you don’t know what that is, it’s like a fire drill but for an active shooter. ALICE stands for Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate. The school trains for it, and then they do a drill with the police. As if “active shooter drill in an elementary school” isn’t enough to put a lump in my throat, I hear this story from school:

During part of the drill, the students have to run for safety, leaving their teachers behind. Doors to the outside fling open and the kids take to the yards. During the training, my daughter River, who has Down syndrome, wouldn’t go. She wouldn’t leave her teachers, even when they insisted she run for her life.

This rehearsal already has educators on the emotional edge. I imagine this is not what they envisioned in college when preparing for their careers. “Active shooter drill” is quite a distance from reading, writing and ‘rithmatic. Holding back tears they urged my daughter to go — run! Go be safe with the other kids.

So you know what happened next? Without being told, and totally unprompted, River’s friends came back and got her. They ran back, grabbed her hands and made her run with them to safety. Real tears were flowing now.

It’s good that we have these drills. This is why we practice: to make perfect. Now in my daughter’s IEP under the Emergency Exit Plan it’s written that her assigned paraprofessional stays with her and would run with her to safety during an active shooter situation. Again, my stomach clenches at the vision of my daughter running hand-in-hand with her para across the field behind the school with hundreds of other children, spreading out like a flock of Canadian Geese lifting off in panic after an initial shotgun alarm.

This drill gets me all twisted up because while I hate that our children have to do this, I’m awash with gratitude for our school and the police who are protecting my kids. It’s during terrible times that the best comes out in some people. Sometimes those people are still little and running back to the school to grab my daughter’s hand.

Getty image by Chinnapong.

Originally published: November 24, 2019
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