Bomb Threat and Evacuation | Grade 2 Hullabaloo: Bomb Threat and Evacuation

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Bomb Threat and Evacuation

One might describe my school and the neighboring homes as idyllic. The homes are beautiful, well-manicured, many of them reflecting Southern architecture from a bygone era. There are fountains, small ponds and water features, blooming flowers in spring and summer, and a stately community clubhouse. Many of our students live in the neighborhood, and they walk or bike to school. Others, from this neighborhood and an equally lovely set of neighboring subdivisions, take a short bus ride to school. The area is safe, beautiful, and quiet. It is located in a small, Tennessee town, which boasts a rich history of Civil War battles, farming, Grammy-winning artists shopping alongside you at the grocery store, beautiful churches, rolling hills, and small town values.

My second graders came to school on February 6 talking about how quickly the week had gone by; I remember thinking that I didn't feel the same way. We had had a tiny chance of snow the day before, and if you know teachers, snow days are as precious as gold! Still, we went about our morning routines of washing hands, greetings, beginning morning warm-up work, and taking roll.

A couple of hours later, we were finished with math and writing lessons. We were just about to begin a new lesson, when our principal announced, in a pleasant and calm, but do-it-right-this-minute voice, that all teachers and staff members should read their email. The email said that we had ten minutes to evacuate the building. That we weren't in any immediate danger. Bring class rosters and emergency contact information. She told us where we would be going once we were on the buses, and that she’d have more info for us later. She stressed getting our children ready to go and keeping them calm.

Few, if any, teachers knew why we were evacuating. It didn't matter. What mattered was that we reassured our children, got them out as quickly as possible, and kept them SAFE. I was curious as to why we were evacuating, and bomb threat was my first suspicion, but I couldn't fathom why anyone would want to target our wonderful school.

I have to go on a bit of a tangent at this point. “I have a connection,” as my students would say. When I was in first grade, way back in 1967, the assistant principal came to our classroom door, stuck his head in, and told my teacher, Mrs. Opal Long, “We need you to take your students outside. We have a problem in the boiler room.” I can still remember how Mr. Ellis Searcy’s voice sounded. How his eyes seemed to be communicating much more than the words he said.

It was brutally cold that day in late November. We were told to get our coats. I remember being disappointed that I couldn't get my book satchel (precursor to the backpack for you young’uns), which was relatively new. I loved that book satchel!

I also remember walking out of the building through a haze of smoke. The building, built in 1927, was on fire. It had started in the boiler room. Of course, the building was constructed mostly of wood, so it was ripe for burning. I remember wooden floors that were cleaned and shined with an oil product, which was even more of an accelerant for a fire. We walked out and stood outside in the cold. I don't remember seeing flames, and thankfully, no one in this school of grades 1-12 was injured.

My mother sometimes tells her side of the story when we talk about the fire. She talks about her terror of hearing that the school was on fire from my great aunt, who lived near us. We lived 8 miles from the school. At the time, we had one car, and my pop had driven it to work. My great aunt drove my mother to the school. My mother recalls thinking that my great aunt was driving so slowly. She could see the black smoke from several miles out as they drove. I don’t have children of my own, but when I hear my mother talk about her terror, I suspect that it is similar to that which my students’ parents felt yesterday.

If you're an educator, you know that field trips are all about fun for the children. No, this wasn't a field trip, but we were getting on buses, and it was during the school day, so as far as the children were concerned, it was kind of like a field trip. For teachers on field trips, it’s all about making sure you don’t leave anyone behind, that everyone has their coat, and that you, the teacher, has the GO Bag (tissues, wipes, small first aid kit, etc.). I noticed that one of my brilliant coworkers had suggested that her students bring a book. I immediately, and with no shame at all, stole her idea. What better way to keep students occupied than to have them grab a book to read while we’re driving and waiting!

So, with kids, books, important contact information, and GO bag in hand, we lined up and made our way downstairs to the lines waiting to board the buses. The entryway of our school was filled with lines of children and adults. I remember seeing our early childhood classes, along with their teachers and teacher’s assistants, beside us. Some early childhood teachers and assistants were carrying special needs children who needed assistance with walking. Others had our youngest students by the hand, leading them to buses. I remember pointing to my eyes with two fingers, indicating to my students to keep their eyes on me.

The office staff, special area teachers and teachers’ assistants were guiding classes into lines to go outside. Our two assistant principals were outside directing classes onto buses with the help of bus drivers who were gauging how many more children could fit onto the bus. I don't remember seeing our principal, but I know she was at the helm of organizing our evacuation.  

Our fabulous leaders were calm and swift with their guidance. As soon as one bus was filled, it would zip out of the parking lot. People, it was like our children and the staff had been through evacuation drills dozens of times! There was no chaos, no confusion, just lines of children led by their teachers, waiting to board a bus. After it was over, our principal would tell us that law enforcement officers would comment that our evacuation was the best they had ever seen. By the way, it took us 16 minutes to get 600+ children and staff out of the building. Amazing!

As we drove a few miles away, to the parking lot of a church, my coworkers and I whispered our questions (out of earshot of the children): Is this a drill? How did they get all of those buses to our school so quickly? (We later counted the buses. We think there were eleven.) Do you think it’s a bomb threat? WHAT is going on?

We were checking social media for any word of what was happening. There was nothing. The children were chatting, some were reading, but they were all in good spirits. A few asked what was happening, and we told them that “they” were just making sure that our school was safe. We were vague on purpose, and at that time, we really didn’t know why we were evacuated.

I should mention that I counted my nineteen students getting on the bus, and once we were on there, I counted again. I had nineteen precious children in my care. Normally, it would have been twenty-one, but I had two children absent. I probably counted and recounted a dozen times while we were out of the building.

A student’s mother, who is also a coworker, was with us on the bus. As a parent of a student, she received a call from the district communications director, who explained the situation. An internet threat had been made; it mentioned blowing up a school in our neighborhood. That’s how we learned what was happening – from our central office. They were on the ball. Our district does a terrific job of keeping parents informed. The local police department tweeted that our school had been evacuated shortly after the phone call to parents. Several parents came to our location to check out their children. We would see later, that many, many more would be waiting for us at school to check out their children.

For the past few years, I have told my students’ parents at open house, that I will be their children’s mama bear while they are at school. I explain that if they need fussing on, I’ll fuss on them. If they are sick, I'll make sure to check on them or send them to the nurse. If they need extra help, they'll get it. I tell them this to let them know that I take my responsibility of caring for and teaching their children very seriously. I mean it. I love my students. We are a school family, and I tell them that I am their school mama. I mean it.

Grizzly Bear After Swim

Yesterday afternoon, after all had been resolved, I had an email from a parent who referred to my open house comment about being her child’s mama bear. She said that she remembered it yesterday, and it gave her comfort. It made me proud and gave me goosebumps – proud to be a teacher – to know that I’m not crazy for counting and recounting to make sure that I have all my little chicks with me, to know that teaching and learning are important, but the relationships that I develop with my children and their families are equally important. It made me proud to work with all of my coworkers. Do you want to know why? It’s because I know that they do the same thing for their students. I saw it in my coworkers yesterday. They were mama bears or papa bears, too. It’s our job. It’s what we do, IN ADDITION to and IN CONJUNCTION with teaching. It’s one of the many hats we wear.

We were only out of our building for about an hour. Law enforcement checked our building, and everything was found to be safe. According to news media, it was a hoax. An alleged threat was posted on social media saying that the school was going to be blown up. Our specific school wasn't mentioned, but the neighborhood was. We were evacuated in an abundance of caution.

When we returned to school, parents were lining both sides of the walkway. I could see their eyes scanning the lines of classes for their child, a smile forming, along with a sigh of relief, when their child was spotted.  Central office leaders and law enforcement officers were present, at the church lot where we waited, and at our school. Our director of schools was at school to welcome us back and to answer any questions parents might have.

It took a long time, once I got home, for me to calm down. I kept thinking of the huge responsibility of teaching. Yes, there are lesson plans, occasional naughty boys or girls, data reviews, assessments, and growth targets, but the duty of teaching is much greater. I thought about the twenty-one lives that I am responsible for teaching and keeping safe each and every day of school. I am thankful that everything turned out well.

The profession of teaching is often criticized for this or that, but when a potentially harmful situation arises, I believe that all in our profession would “mama or papa bear up” and guard their students. You've seen those signs and bumper stickers that read, “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” Well, if you have read this, you can thank a teacher, but know that whether you do or not, this teacher (and her coworkers) knows the precious value of your children.

I teach. What's your super power?


  1. I can only imagine the myriad of feelings, questions, concerns. I've been watching my facebook feed since I first heard of the incident yesterday ... so glad to hear that all is well. I know those children were in capable hands! I love PCES, its teachers ... and the leadership of WCS.

  2. Thank you, Beth. Grateful to be able to tell the story, and that no one was harmed.