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Suburban diary

When school lockdown is not a drill

A call from my fifth-grade daughter’s school means snow delays, sickness, or even lice. But it’s never scary. Or wasn’t, until Monday at 9:48 a.m., when the South Shore Charter Public School sent parents a reverse 911 call to let us know there was a precautionary lockdown in effect and Norwell police were assisting.

There were no details, but it was not a drill.

“I’m going to the school because I don’t know what else to do,” said a parent, Heidi Aylward. By 10 a.m., she was waiting outside the school parking lot, along with about 50 other parents.

When I arrived, two police cars were blocking the school driveway and another half-dozen were in the parking lot. We heard there might have been a shell casing found on the premises.


We watched police dogs enter the front door.

My mind was racing fast around the what-if track. What if a student has a gun and is holding kids hostage? What if my daughter, Kai, is huddled in a classroom corner, terrified?

School has been a predictable sanctuary where warm kindergarten teachers plant daffodils, a hip math teacher makes fractions cool, and the eccentric K-6 principal occasionally does headstands in class.

I know life isn’t fair. I lived in Boston during school desegregation. There were bomb threats at my high school. There was never live footage of bombings and funerals following the firing of semiautomatic weapons in school. Today, fear keeps company with actual scenes from Sandy Hook or Columbine or last year’s Boston Marathon.

I take comfort in routines. There is dance on Monday, before-bed reading, and bagels for breakfast.

When it comes to my child, I don’t want to be Boston Strong. I don’t want to need our first responders so desperately or often. I want to be Boston Safe or Boston Boring.


I want to go a few years back when I was the officer safeguarding street crossings, the educator introducing letters and numbers, and the essential carrier of sunscreen, money for popsicles, and pails for building sand castles.

I don’t want to stand shoulder to shoulder with parents helpless and waiting for police updates. I don’t want to trust teachers whose middle names I don’t know to keep my kid calm while dogs sniff classrooms, backpacks, and lockers. I feel old-fashioned, but I want schoolteachers to teach my daughter about the solar system, how to audition for a play, or to speak conversational Spanish.

Midway through the lockdown, a police officer told us our children were safe, no threat had been made, but that a shell casing was found inside the school that morning. Soon after, police dogs and officers began leaving the building.

At 12:02 p.m., parents were informed via loudspeaker and another phone call that the lockdown was over.

Parents standing outside were allowed in to see children snacking and chatting in classes and teachers and staff standing in hallways proving everyone was fine. The relief was palpable. We were spared grief others have endured, and that hovered in our hearts.

In the auditorium, administrators praised and gave credit to the law enforcers. The police raved about how organized and responsive the school was. As lockdowns go, it was a great success.

To show trust in the school, we were asked not to take our children home, to let them finish the day without further disruption.


“What are you doing here?” my daughter asked when I went to check on her.

She didn’t even know the lockdown was more than a drill, that more than 50 parents left work, home, and half-filled grocery carts to rush to the school and stand vigil outside.

It was my unexpected presence that surprised her.

“Let’s get out of here and get frozen yogurt,” I wanted to say, but didn’t. I was silently saying sorry for the times I hid in the bathroom to get a moment to myself during the years she couldn’t tolerate me out of her sight.

Monday, she wanted to go to recess with friends.

It was me clinging and lingering now, but I let her go.

As I walked through the parking lot, my knees buckled. All of the emotions I had not allowed welled up, and I felt dizzy.

My daughter, after her first lockdown, was utterly and completely fine.

I, on the other hand, in the privacy of my own car, was going to need a minute.

Postscript: Alicia Savage, executive director of the South Shore Charter Public School, said things are back to normal at the school. She said Norwell Chief of Police Theodore Ross “was pretty sure on Monday that there was no cause for alarm.” Still, a shell casing found in a school requires that certain protocols be followed, she said. Ross confirmed on Wednesday that only one shell casing was found, but said police were not releasing other details about the casing yet.


Christine Cissy White can be reached at