I was approaching the high school. I was in my bus, on my way to the elementary school. It is my job to drive a school bus filled with autistic children and children with special needs. It is my job to take them safely to school each day.
Suddenly the two-way radio sprang to life and I listened as another driver told a third that a police car was coming up behind him. Then a fourth driver, a friend of mine named Mike, reported seeing three emergency vehicles from another district rushing toward the high school.
That particular morning was Monday, December 20, 2012 and during the previous weekend, I had spent too much time watching news reports about a twenty-year old who had invaded an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, shooting and killing twenty students and six adults before turning his weapon on himself.
Clearly, something was happening now.
I was just passing the high school on my left, when I noticed two police cars parked in front of the school. Just then, a third car came screeching around a corner, stopping behind the others. A policeman sprang from it and ran toward the main entrance then crouched just short of the front door. Was that a weapon in his hand? Oh my god, I thought, my granddaughter Tori is inside that school.
I heard sirens screaming from every direction Two more police cars came up behind me, slammed on their brakes and parked to the right of my bus. I passed the school but had to halt at the stop sign on the corner. What do I do? I wondered feeling paralyzed with fear. To reach the elementary school I had to turn right. Out of habit, I had pulled into the right hand lane. But I wanted to turn left. Away from the school.
Where do I take these children? I wondered in panic. Where can I take them to keep them safe? Is there some place where it will not take armed guards to protect them? What do I do? Where do I go? I thought of the police station located on the other side of the school. I had already passed it, I realized as a car horn sounded behind me, urging me to move on. I glanced into the rearview mirror and saw a line of cars behind me. I had to turn right.
I was terrified for myself and for my tender charges, all of whom suspected nothing. As I drove down the street toward the elementary school, tears rolled down my face. I pulled in front of the school where the special education aides were waiting. “It’s only a drill,” one of them informed me as I sat there wondering why policemen from every part of the county would respond to a drill.
Then, as I watched the aides take the children into the school the way they did every morning, I sat there and cried.
Later, at the bus garage, our secretary Mary, who had a daughter inside the high school, tried to calm me. “It’s okay,” she said. “It was just an incident caused by a student with an umbrella that looked like a rifle to an overzealous guard who sounded the alarm.
But what if it happens again? And what if the next time it’s real and it’s happening while a driver is unloading students returning from a field trip? If something like this happens, will I still be wondering where to take my students or will someone set up a plan that I and other drivers can follow?