An Open Letter to Dr. Hall: Little things we can do to protect our students

Dear Dr. Hall,

This morning I am awake at 3:30 a.m. thinking about my children.

I have one who is getting ready to leave Mahomet-Seymour. She’s colorful and ambitious and has more insight into this world than God has graced me with. I have another one who is the brightest person I have ever known. She may not show it because she is shy, but when she does talk, it makes everyone’s heart light up. Then I have my boy. He is a ball of everything you might imagine a boy to be. He has enough energy to power the sun, which lights up my life. He doesn’t like to think about the bad, but has so many questions about how things work and why they work. Then he’ll dream up solutions that probably wouldn’t work, but I love that he is thinking.

Dr. Hall, these children are more than everything to me. They are the reason I wake up at 6 a.m. each day. They are the reason I ask questions. They are the reason that I actually cook sometimes. They are in my every thought.

And because you, too, have children and grandchildren, I think you might know what I am talking about.

I imagine that there are other moms and dads up at 3:30 a.m. thinking about if this morning will be the last time they will experience their child’s personality. I imagine that there are moms and dads up at 3:30 a.m. because they can’t wrap their hearts around the fact that they will never experience their child’s personality again.

So, here we are. We’re all awake at 3:30 a.m.

But we’re not just awake because we are scared or helpless; we are awake at 3:30 a.m. because we know that there are things we can do to make this world what it is supposed to be for our little people.

This, this world we have created isn’t working for our kids.

So, we have a lot to talk about. And we have even more work to do. Together. Parents, schools, systems and society. We have a lot of work to do.

Let me begin with this: what do you, the educator or educational system, need from me, a parent, to ensure safety in our schools? I know that what I do and don’t do at home creates a human being. I do try my best, but I also know that I screw up. So, please tell me what you need from me, from all of us at home.

I know that the educators in our school district try their best, too. I have enjoyed being part of the Mahomet-Seymour School District for 11 years now. Many of the educators have become my dear friends, and I trust them with my children.

But sending my children to school isn’t just about trusting the adults in the classroom anymore.

While we all feel the urge to lobby for help with mental health issues and gun control, I feel like there are some things that we can do on a day-to-day basis, right here at home, to make a difference: to ensure that our kids come home from school safely every day.

Do we need to talk about mental health issues and gun control? Yes. This is not an attempt to push that to the side.

But I do hope among the conversation of behaviors, isolation, guns, mental health, community and belonging, we can also tweak just a few day-to-day things within our schools to protect our students.

Before I begin, I do want to say this: I can’t believe that I am thinking or about to write some of these suggestions. By no measure do I want for my kids to live in a world where classroom violence, threats, intruder drills or lockdowns are part of our vocabulary or practices. This is the very last thing that I want.

I just want to be very clear here: I do not want my children or any child to have to live in a threatening or lockdown state. The following suggestions are not something I want. But I want my children most.

When I was in high school we visited a high school in northern Indiana where there was security everywhere. There was a watchtower in the parking lot, police officers in the bathroom, and our basketball team was not allowed to wear or bring anything that did not involve our uniform, warm-ups or basketball shoes while we were there because some items of clothing might be a gang symbol.

It was one of the scariest experiences of my life.

I grew up in a land where we were suspended or expelled for getting in a fistfight, for talking back to a teacher or doing drugs. I didn’t grow up with the same worries as my children do.

My kids live in a world where in elementary school they do drills about how to hide from or cause a distraction towards an active gunman.

Maybe the scariest thing for me now is that it’s not one of the scariest experiences of their lives. Instead it is commonplace.

School violence prevention begins long before someone brings a weapon into a school. And that is the most important work that we need to do long term. I know that throwing money at this problem will not help or solve anything.

But, within the Mahomet-Seymour School District, we have installed tools to help prevent attacks on our students over the last couple year. And this letter is in hopes that we are using those tools on a day-to-day basis in the ways they were designed to be used.

Metal Detectors

I can’t even begin that I am saying this: but instead of purchasing all new everything for Middletown Prairie, maybe we could transfer chairs, tables, desks and SMARTBOARDS and purchase metal detectors for our school entrances.

Not only are guns being brought to schools, but we’ve also heard of a rise in stabbings on school property. We all think it won’t happen here, it won’t happen to us, but after two incidents (one that involved a knife at the junior high and the other involved a threat at the high school) just this year, maybe it is time to think that it could very well happen here.

Making sure all students and adults use the front entrance

After Sandy Hook, entrance practices at our schools changed. The district installed systems that lock all doors at all times, forcing all late students and visitors to enter through the front door with the push of a button. The secretary at the front desk can see the person who wants to enter and talk to them before opening the lock.

Former Superintendent Rick Johnston often referred to the system as “robust.” He told me about the security cameras that were installed throughout the schools, ones that can hear conversations and zoom on the face of a quarter after it has fallen to the ground.

I believe some of these cameras are pointed at the entrances of our schools.

And while I know it is difficult to keep track of hundreds of kids throughout the day, we do have students who find their way to side doors, particularly at the high school, to let their friends or acquaintances in so that the student does not have to use that guarded front entrance.

My concern is not in students coming and going. My concern is that if a student did want to do something to hurt his/her peers, they are not going to walk through the front door. They are going to work with someone else, and use the side doors where it is acceptable for students to come and go as they please.

Can we please actually lock down our school instead of just having a facade of being a “robust” system? If the cameras are pointed at the doors and you can see students letting their friends in, then can we put a stop to that?

Could a trigger warning go off if a door is opened from the inside during the school day? Maybe it triggers the Mahomet Police Department to come to the school, giving some sort of consequence to deter students from breaking the rules.

Is the security system we have installed used to prevent an attack or to figure out what happened after an attack has happened?

Parking Lot

If there are not cameras in the parking lots, can we install some there? Again, I don’t know if people at the school are watching the camera feeds, and I know it’d take a new hire to have someone watch those feeds, but if someone were there to see if a student is coming in mid-morning, at lunch or before school lets out, then maybe we could catch something before it happens.

Intruder Drills

The reality is that statistically, our school are more vulnerable to an intruder attack than they are to be hit by a tornado or being destroyed by a fire.

When my children were in elementary school, they had intruder drills every spring.

I was never sure why the drill happened in the spring because the year was already over. I know of several school districts in the area that do them once in the fall and spring. Is it worthwhile for our students to do these drills twice a year?

We talk about what you should do at home if there is an intruder in the school, but my oldest two cannot recall a time when they have done an intruder drill at the junior high or high school, when students are most likely to have to deal with something like this.

The fact of the matter is that Mahomet is actually just like every other school in our nation. We experience classroom disruptions and violence, we have kids who are loners, we have kids who don’t know how to deal with their feelings, we have kids with the same patterns and problems.

And it just takes one person, just one decision to change all of our lives. Just one.

I am not looking past the gun, mental health or societal problems that we have. We have really, really big problems that are only going to be resolved by all of us banding together to work through those deep and dark issues that our students are facing.

I want to be a part of that. I want to be a part of our change.

And while I am making changes at home, like playing with my son more, encouraging him to reflect on and talk about his feelings daily, making sure all of my kids have friends and include people, and talking to them about the really tough issues that we face in this world, I am hoping that the Mahomet-Seymour School District can use the tools in place to help ensure that we get to continue to grow here.

We love these little humans more than they will ever know. We’ve given up our time to make sure that they have what they need. And, Dr. Hall, if that means that you need parents to host mentoring groups, to stand next to doors to make sure that students don’t let their peers in, to watch the camera feeds or to do something differently at home, we will. All we want is for them to come home to us each day.

Thank you for your time,

Dani Tietz

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