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Column: CHCCS students deserved a better first day of school


Aug. 28 was the first day of school for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district and only the sixth day of classes for UNC students. 

For many young kindergarten-age students, it was the first time they ever stepped into a classroom. It was also the second week of classes for first-year students, many of whom had moved away from their families for the first time just weeks ago.  

These students were just getting acquainted with their walk to class, making friends and building their own community on campus. The shooting that occurred at 1:04 p.m. stripped away the routine they were beginning to build, as they huddled in dorm rooms, classrooms and libraries while texting their families, friends and new classmates that they were okay.

This set the tone of the school year for many first-years, as they may continue to be on high alert throughout their day-to-day lives on campus. 

It was not until well into the lockdown on campus that I considered the effect on surrounding public schools. Earlier that morning five- and six-year-old kindergarten students were meeting their teachers and classmates and getting settled into their desks, eager for their first day and the school year. Parents were excited for their children to start school, thinking that their children were safe. 

I am a swim instructor with UNC Aquatics and several of the kids I teach go to CHCCS. I had a handful of parents reach out and contact me asking if I was okay, where I was and what I knew. 

I couldn’t give them answers or much reassurance. I was relying on rumors, which had a varying number of people with weapons to different locations of potential suspects. All these parents could do was tune into the news and wait, as we all were. 

CHCCS classrooms entered “Secure Mode” with all entrances closed and locked allowing no one to enter the building before being given the all-clear. Students remained in classrooms for nearly four hours while police swarmed UNC’s campus trying to identify a suspect. 

Students usually leave class at 2:35 p.m. On that Monday, it wasn't until 3:40 p.m., following a delayed dismissal process for elementary and middle school students that left parents scared and confused, waiting in long lines.

Because teaching was allowed to continue as normal during “Secure Mode”, it is hard to tell what students were informed of as they waited. 

Some teachers likely felt it was necessary to inform older elementary and middle school age students of what was happening on campus. It sounds challenging to gauge how to approach this conversation. How should teachers talk with students in these very real and scary moments? Is there even a right way to go about these topics, no matter how careful we are?

Meanwhile, others decided not to inform the children to preserve their perception of safety in school. Upon dismissal, parents had to make the decision to discuss what had happened over dinner or to wait and see if their child asked questions about the lockdown. 

Many current college students are no stranger to lockdowns. Now, new classes of students are having to deal with the same protocols and fears that we were introduced to at the start of our education. 

These kindergarten procedures aren't changing because gun policy isn't. 

North Carolina’s House and Senate have strong Republican control, which means gun laws are unlikely to change in the near future. 

“Thoughts and prayers” and active shooter training drills are the current substitutes for a change in legislation, while fear and anxiety persist on campuses across North Carolina classrooms.


@dthopinion |

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