Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Keeping Our Students Safe

I walked into the third grade classroom to pick up my student for our session. Her teacher pulled me aside, whispered that there would be a lock-down drill happening in the next few minutes, and suggested we stay rather than being stuck in our tiny work space for the drill. I gave my student a wave, then sat in the back of the classroom. Sure enough, moments later the announcement came over the loudspeaker that the school was in lock-down. The kids all stood up and obediently walked over to the designated area and sat down on the floor as they’d practiced. I watched my student. She was startled when everyone got up and moved, but seemed to figure out what was happening and joined her classmates on the floor. I took a seat beside her. Her teacher whispered instructions from the other end of the group. My student looked at me, confused. She hadn’t heard what was said.

A co-worker recently shared a story about a high school student with hearing loss who was in the bathroom when a lock-down drill was announced over the loudspeaker. This student hadn’t heard the announcement, and was walking back to class when she was stopped by police. Confused, she didn't know what to do. Luckily, the classroom teacher had alerted the office that the student was in the bathroom and may not know that the school was in lock-down, so staff were able to intervene and explain the situation to the officers.

These drills prompted us to think about our students with hearing loss in the case of an actual emergency. Schools practice fire drills, lock downs, and active shooter emergency situations but how much are our students really understanding? If this had been an actual emergency, how would my student have gotten the instructions? I’ve since been more proactive in discussing strategies and the specific needs of my students with their school teams. I’ve gotten copies of the policies and procedures from administration or from teachers and reviewed the information with my students. I want to do more.

Not all students with hearing loss require additional support in these extreme situations. But it’s important we plan for and empower those who do. I’ve broached this topic with my colleagues; we must share these experiences, learn from each other and discuss scenarios in different environments. While I’ve been in school crisis situations, and while we work with our schools to ensure access during emergencies such as making sure the student with hearing loss is accounted for during drills, keeping dry erase boards or notebooks in the fire drill bags so that instructions can be written out if necessary, and using a buddy system, problems still occur such as the communication difficulty that I observed with my elementary student. What more can we do so that in a true emergency, it will be remembered that our students with hearing loss have limited access? How do we ensure that law enforcement officers know to look for small cochlear implants before thinking about non-compliance?

The Council for Exceptional Children recently released this statement on school safety, which also links to some school safety resources. 

This is an important and unfortunately relevant conversation. How are you addressing such concerns?