When it comes to keeping our children out of harm’s way, we parents get testy. I never realized how testy I could get until the day I drove my oldest home from the hospital. Not only did I check every buckle in his car seat fifteen times over, I don’t think I took my car over 25 miles per hour the whole way home. I threw a few sour looks toward drivers who passed me at a higher rate of speed.
It was illogical. It was emotional. But it was instinctual. I couldn’t stop what simply holding my baby boy was doing to me on the inside. I suspect I am not alone among first-time fathers and mothers. The feelings we have may wane over time or become more rational as we age, but they never fully go away.
Keeping composure in emotionally tense situations requires a degree of grace, and I find it doubly ironic that, as a former school-safety-coordinator-turned-minister, grace would be the state of being I believe our community should adopt in this controversy.
Trina Baughn’s letter grabs us at our most instinctual, emotional places. I am certainly not well-positioned to enlighten us on what is or isn’t accurate in that letter, with perhaps only a few exceptions that come from personal experience in dealing with teens in our city, mostly in and around the drug epidemic.
I do know what it was like to wake up every morning and feel the weight that stemmed from trying to keep 7,000 students safe. I used to sweat bullets. Sometimes I would get agitated or erupt in frustration when things like tornado drills didn’t go as smoothly as they looked on paper. Sometimes I would resort to hyperbole to motivate the masses. I found that despite getting folks talking, appeals to emotion rarely worked. (They don’t work well in the church world either.) In that regard, I am not sure an alarming letter about a culture of terror works very well either, but here we are…at least we are talking.
These are lessons that I have been forced to learn over and over again in my life simply because the things that are most precious to me occupy spaces of emotion. The first time I walked my son into his kindergarten classroom at Oak Ridge Schools, I did so with around seven years of school safety training under my belt. I nearly drove my wife insane on the drive home, picking over tiny details in exit signing, evacuation map placement, and potential shelter-in-place locations. It was in my blood and I couldn’t get rid of it.
Grace. I didn’t have it…I needed to find it again. I had to learn to let go and to trust. Few things would have calmed me more than having unfettered access to every safety-related file in the school system, but that wasn’t my role anymore and I learned to let it go.
Ms. Baughn’s letter rang like a kettle bell for me and (just like one of Pavlov’s dogs), triggered some of those old feelings. Again, I am not in position to determine what is or isn’t accurate, but even if I was, I know myself well enough to believe my emotions could fully get the better of me where my children are concerned.
That high-intensity emotion is what I am seeing in and around this issue at the present. From the original letter, which contained verbiage that sparked emotion, to what I consider a knee-jerk reaction from both the press and city staff. It’s time for calmer heads—for grace.
Grace recognizes that things aren’t ever quite perfect and that, despite our best efforts, we often play a role in their dysfunction. Grace communicates clearly and articulates concerns without judgment or the use of fear to initiate a response. Grace responds factually, admits shortcomings, and details acceptable methods for improvement.
I would ask both Ms. Baughn and our city staff to find that grace and help lower the anxiety levels for all us, myself included.
For me, this would include both parties working to provide our community with accurate school safety information; such information would include the following for me personally:
- Is there a school safety board comprised of faculty, first responders, and parents. If so, how often do they meet, how does one apply to be on such a board, and how often is relevant information communicated to the public to assist in managing parent anxiety?
- How many hours of professional development for ORS staff is devoted to school safety annually? Does the training include school support staff (i.e. front office, bus drivers, cafeteria staff, etc.)?
- Does this system carry out a comprehensive safety audit of all its facilities at least once every three years? Do the results of the audits help create a needs assessment that is then turned over to the safety committee for recommendations?
- Does the system periodically participate in Tennessee Emergency Management Agency tabletop drills, and is it aware of larger emergency management protocols that exist in our community?
- How often are faculty independently interviewed or surveyed regarding school safety issues? How are the results of these interviews and surveys woven into a comprehensive needs assessment and presented to the safety committee?
- How is the student curriculum on safety issues, such as bullying or sexual harassment, selected? Does the selection follow a “best practices” model?
- How often is the student population surveyed on drug and alcohol use, and does the system track multi-year data on these reports to identify trends and adjust professional development offerings accordingly?
- Does every school, and ideally every floor/wing of every school, have certified CPR/first aid responders, whether teachers or support staff?
There are many others that come to mind, some should be asked and answered privately to protect the integrity of the school safety plan.
It may be (and it is my hope) that the answers to these questions are readily available, maybe on a Web page somewhere. No matter how we twist it up, there is always room to improve. What can’t happen is for any of us to bury our heads in the sand or—worse—get caught up in a game of he-said/she-said.
I’ll be the first to admit, the topic makes me emotional. I love my children, and yours too…I can’t help but drawn into those places. But we can’t stay here. Let’s be honest and open with each other and work hard to find the measure of grace we need. I am speaking to myself as much as anyone.