Dead Zone at the High School

Yesterday I went to Teenage Son’s high school orientation. He strongly encouraged me not to attend and almost had me convinced that parents were not invited, but then I received a text from his girlfriend’s mother, saying that she would be there.

“What if you’re the only two mothers who show up?” protested Teenage Son.

“Then you’ll have another detail for your eventual memoir about what a difficult upbringing you’ve endured.”

In any event, Girlfriend’s Mother and I were – no surprise – not the only parents to show up. The auditorium was packed with mothers and fathers of incoming freshmen and transfer students. We live in an upper middle class Maryland suburb where the main problem affecting our children is over-involved (not under-involved) parents.

Most of the kids, mine included, didn’t acquiesce to actually sitting with their parents, so there was a smattering of adults, primarily mothers but also a few fathers, scattered in solo spots throughout the large, brand-spanking-new (high school underwent a complete renovation that was just completed last year) auditorium.

Yesterday’s orientation came on the heels of a weekend of horrific gun violence in this country – with mass shootings in both El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio – each one resulting in multiple casualties and injuries. While neither of those mass shootings took place at a school, we all know that schools are an all too common setting for such sickening scenes of carnage.

So here’s my takeaway from my son’s high school orientation: There are A days and B days. There are ample resources and policies in place for kids who need academic or psychological counseling. There is NO CELLPHONE SERVICE in the high school.

I don’t know if this is the result of deliberate phone jamming on the part of the school administration or the county, or if the school resides in one of those weird geographical cellphone “dead zones.”

All I know is I spent the entirety of the orientation obsessed with the thought of How Are These Kids Going To Call The Police Or Reach Us In The Eventuality Of A School Shooting?

Whatever was conveyed regarding the tardy and absence policy was lost on me, as my eyes furtively scanned the auditorium looking for all exits and imagining where Teenage Son – a resourceful, quick-thinking (if not early-rising) kid – could hide and play dead while a homicidal maniac shoots up the student body and staff.

I do not mean to sound alarmist, and this conjectured situation is not one cooked up by my overactive imagination. It is a scene that has played out again and again – in high schools, middle schools, even elementary schools – throughout America.

There is no excuse for it. We are country with an incomprehensible lack of laws or even limits on the purchase of weapons of mass destruction. The next mass shooting in a school is not a matter of if; it’s just a matter of when, and where.

And God forbid it’s at our local high school, where there is no way for our children to call us or notify the police because there is NO CELLPHONE SERVICE in the school. There is password-protected WiFi at the school but the students do not have access to it.

I come from a background in intelligence, and throughout my life have worked closely with both military special forces and law enforcement. A lot of what we call “operational security” is just plain common sense. Being prepared for the most – and hopefully even the least – likely scenario. And having both primary and back-up means of communication, for when things really go south.

In the case of the High School where Teenage Son will spend the next four years, and Younger Son will arrive for his tenure in two, there is not even the means for basic communication in the event of an emergency.

I have little faith in the ability of our country’s leaders to enact urgent immediate measures to stop or even mitigate gun violence in our country.

In the meantime, something has to be done to make sure all kids in every school in America have the basic tools to survive or try to get help in a situation where an active shooter rampages their school.

Late last night, I found myself talking candidly to Teenage Son about what he should do in that event: Run. Hide. Play dead. No, do NOT rush the shooter. Do NOT try to be a hero. Just GTFO.

What I could not say was the obvious – call the police. It horrifies me to think that the one thing my son might do to give himself, his girlfriend, his bandmates, his fellow students, all of them teenagers, a fighting chance is not even possible.

I think we can all agree that the typical American teenager – mine included – spends way too much time on his cellphone. And I’m certainly not advocating that high school become a place for posting selfies and cafeteria food shots on Instagram. But this is the reality: we live in a world, in a country specifically, where the need for students to call authorities during the course of a school day is both increasingly common, and potentially critical to saving lives. Without adequate cellphone service, the school could become a Dead Zone of an entirely different and devastating nature.

Local friends: please contact me if you would consider signing a letter to request measures be taken to ensure cellphone service at our high school.

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