Safety [Not] First

As if the math curriculum foul-up on the state level weren’t bad enough, the city is also setting schools up for failure—or, at least, a monumental distraction—by providing late notice of and materials for a significant change in emergency response procedures.

On August 21, I described to our teachers the procedures for emergencies at Harlem Link. We went over what to do during fire drills, how we walk down the stairs and which staircases we use, what to do in the event of a lockdown and how to lead a shelter drill. Then, on September 1, the fourth day of our school year, I learned at our Building Council meeting that all of those procedures were suddenly outdated. The city mandated new procedures, new responsibilities for teachers, new language to signify lockdowns, new definitions of lockdowns and even new logos for the new classroom posters.  We received a sample of the new materials to review and were told that a full set would be distributed sometime real soon.  And all of these new rules had to be discussed with teachers and the new materials had to be handed out to them before the first fire drill.

As we always do, our Building Council thoughtfully planned for our first 10 fire drills.  We would do more than a month’s share in September, to give our community plenty of practice in the event of an early emergency.  But by the day on which the first drill was scheduled, the materials had not arrived.  So we cancelled it.

And we cancelled the second one.

On September 14, the materials arrived. Well, I received about one-third of Harlem Link’s materials, which I suppose is better than none.

Keeping our children and adults safe, especially in the event of an emergency, is the single most important thing we do.  Why weren’t these changes communicated to the school in a timely fashion?  Why weren’t the materials for this big change distributed in early summer or, better yet, last spring, so our Building Council could have had the time to make the proper plans well in advance of the start of this school year?

When reflecting on this situation, and all the duplication of effort and disruption of our focus on teaching and learning it has caused, it’s hard not to believe that C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape isn’t at work sabotaging schools by distracting them from their core work. There are many negative factors that plague our school system and prevent it from operating at optimally, but easily eliminated ones, like the failure to correctly plan and implement safety changes, are a travesty.

About Steve Evangelista

Steven Evangelista is the co-founder of Harlem Link Charter School. He is a native New Yorker with a bachelors degree in Psychology from Georgetown University and a Masters degree in Elementary Education from Bank Street College.
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