I’m from the United States and as I’m sure it’s well known, world wide we have the highest mass shooting rates in the world. It’s not just school shootings, however, but also fires and other natural disasters that are a threat to our children in school. It is scary and disheartening, but what if you have children with disabilities in school? Are there precautions in place for them, or are they simply falling through the cracks? What if there is a fire and your child that uses a wheelchair is on the second floor? What plans do the school have for your most precious child? These are the questions we should be asking ourselves and demanding the school, the district and government take into account.
“If I Choose to stay with a disabled student, then a police officer advised me that i would go down with the ship”
– Anonymous teacher, Massachusetts
There has never been a discussion
I started thinking about all of this because I have two daughters with disabilities and I am a behavioral therapist by trade. I often work as a 1:1 with students that are severely disabled and/or mentally impaired. After speaking with one teacher about what plans were in place for her special needs classroom, should there be a shooting, and/or lockdown, fire or other crisis she said there were no special plans in place for her classroom and it has never been discussed. In fact they had never had a drill all year long. I could not believe what I was hearing. The most vulnerable of students were not being prepared for these traumatic events. Did you know it is up to the parents to write it into a students 504 or IEP to make accommodations for these situations? That is appalling! Also, not all states require active shooter drills. It is left up to the districts and individual school and students with disabilities are often forgotten about.
Run, Hide, Fight
In the case of a school shooting, students are taught to “run, hide or fight back.” People with disabilities are incapable of doing any of those three things and when hiding a student that is autistic is not capable of being quiet, a blind person cannot run or see the threat, a deaf person cannot hear the threat or warning, people in wheelchairs cannot outrun a gun or in the case of a fire may be stuck. This is not acceptable.
“One student with Tourette Syndrome was mistreated by her peers for days after an incident because they believed that if a shooter came into school, her vocal tics would bring the shooter right to their door” – Anonymous teacher, Ohio
22 school shootings in America
To date America has had 22 school shootings in this year alone. During Sandy Hook, (the elementary school that was so tragically attacked in Dec of 2012) an aide named Rachel D’Avino died protecting her student named Josephine. She was a behavioral therapist, working with autistic children, just like me. She tragically lost her life that day. Another autistic student, Dylan Hockley, 6, also lost his life that day. His special education teacher, Anne Marie Murphy, died protecting him.
REMS, (Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center) is the current authority on emergency readiness and coined the phrase “run, hide, fight.” REMS states part of putting together a plan, includes creating a “core planning team”. “Team members should include support staff, first responders, school administrators, teachers, students, parents and those with disabilities.” However, this is not being done.
“I am going into my child’s school next week to show the, how to get her out of her chair safely and lay on the floor, if necessary” – Anonymous parent of a child with disabilities, Ohio
Ask the question
Now I know I’ve mostly touched on the school shootings because it is a huge issue in my country at the moment and sadly seems to be more prevalent than fires, earthquakes, and tornado’s etc. But that doesn’t mean that this doesn’t pertain to any of those situations. Given the situation of any crisis or emergency, I strongly implore you to step back and ask the question, what is the school doing to keep my precious child safe in all scenarios. It is up to us to be their voice.
Build a plan
So where do we go from here?? Start by making your own plan for your child. Walk through the school with their teachers and staff and if they have multiple teachers go to each class and speak with them. Ask questions. Talk to the principal and the board. Form a united front of parents and raise your voices. Your children deserve to be protected just as much as the other children. Volunteer your time to sit in on the emergency readiness meetings and board meetings. Take an active roll in your child’s school life. I know it is daunting taking care of children with special needs and then to add one more thing, but it can save lives!!
If you are in the States you can contact Safe and Sound Schools. A nonprofit that
provides free resources that are designed to promote school safety for these very situations. They have a “Developmental Levels of Safety Awareness” that tells what each student can be expected to do based on their development level during a time of crisis. I encourage you to look into this.
“Fear is incomplete knowledge”
~ Agatha Christie
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”
~ Nelson Mandela
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Since publishing this post, I have been contacted by Lee Wilson – Disability Access Consultant in Australia. Lee has written guidelines for – Evacuation Of People With Disabilities & Emergent Limitations – Aimee