A Mother's Day Letter For A Special Needs Mom

Fleeing To Safety, How Will Students With Special Needs Continue To Survive School Shootings?

Students Hide.

As the video image sharpens, we see a foot, a small body hunched under a desk, and we hear screaming, children screaming, These videos are from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where students are now hiding from the active shooter. Our children are taught to be quiet in lockdowns, to rush and hide in closets and bathrooms and sometimes, like this time, they are even told to run.

But what if they can’t? What if they can't run?  Can’t calm themselves enough to be quiet? Can’t see in the semi-dark room? Can’t hear the alarm or cry of danger?  What if they can’t walk or move to the closest hiding place? What if they can’t follow the directions they are given? What if they can't process fast enough the danger that is before them?

We were driving home from school yesterday when my high school age daughter Zoe, began telling me about a drill they had that day. “Mom, ..” she started. “ I think I need to park my wheelchair somewhere different in History class. We had a drill today and.. What?” I interrupt. I tightly hold the steering wheel and remind myself to breathe. “ Well my wheelchair was in the back of my class, and I couldn’t move it to drive out the other door we use for drills, so my friend helped me walk. Is that okay?”

It is a simple question, but I am already running through the scenarios- How my daughter can only walk about 4 feet unassisted before she falls. How unbalanced she is and prone to trip when you take her hand to walk her. What if it is real next time? What if she is slowing someone down? Will they drop her hand and run? I trust the staff at her school, even her compassionate classmates, but is it enough? What if there is a fire? A shooting? What will be the fastest route? The safest plan? For her? For her friend? We work out a new place to park her wheelchair, and she is content, singing along to Taylor Swift on the radio. But she is the child, and  I am the parent, and I know the danger, I know our plan has flaws.  I think of these videos on the news from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and I know the truth, for every school, for every student- there isn’t a safety protocol that exists that will keep every child safe, and for students with special needs the danger is even greater.

Police Storm The Classroom.

In this video, the classroom is semi-dark. That is the practice in lockdowns. I know this means, that if my daughter were there, with her impaired vision, she would see nothing. And that fear is real within me. My heartbeat quickens as I watch. One student is standing, the rest are seated, and I wonder about that student standing and how vulnerable he is, why he just stands there as the SWAT team enters the classroom screaming their demands to see  “ Hands!  !  ”. Almost all the students immediately raise their hands, I see hands raised that are that are shaking, and I know some students will not be able to process fast enough the urgent cry of police to raise their  Hands! Hands! Hands! What happens then? We know now this active shooter was able to blend into the crowd of uninjured students. What will happen next time?

Students Flee To Safety

Single file the students move quickly down the sidewalk, their hands displayed on the shoulders of the student in front of them. This video zooms in, and we see their hurried steps and frightened faces. The news report ends with an audio account from another high school student fleeing the building “ I put my backpack on just in case I got shot, and I just ran.  she says.  I am hurting for these students, hurting for their mothers, as I wipe my tears away. But it is my own daughter’s backpack I picture. The way I helped her strap it on this morning, the way I do every day, to the back of her wheelchair. “ I just ran,” says the girl on the video again, I just ran.” I think of students I know who might ignore evacuation instructions, unable to process the danger and instead put themselves at risk.  I think of that girl again, her words "I put my backpack on just in case I got shot, and I just ran.” and then I think of my girl who can't run. 

Emotional Reunions

We watch the parents crying, their arms tightly wrapped around their children. Emotions are raw; this video captured only moments after the attack. We see the shock on the faces of teachers and staff. We make promises; these parents tell us to “ hold our children tight’. And we do, we keep them close, and that night we struggle to explain to our children how these events happen.

We talk about prevention, and schools alert us to their current safety protocol., reminding us that they care about protecting our children, that they care about their academic, social and emotional wellbeing, that they are even adding more behavioral health support specialists to their staff.

And as parents we make promises to safeguard, and better monitor the mental health of our kids, we will try even harder. To keep them safe from what will be another school shooting. Another time when students will hide, when students will flee, running for their safety, when police will storm the classroom screaming Hands! Hands! Hands!  I think of all of these students, and I think of those students with special needs, and I wonder how they will survive.