Amid reports of an “active shooter” on campus this week, Baltimore’s Stevenson University students threw their desks against the classroom door, then prayed with near-strangers under computer carts, says the Baltimore Sun. Just three days later, elementary and middle school students at charter schools were hiding with their teachers in a classroom, while police searched the building for a gunman and hundreds of parents rushed to a nearby school to wait anxiously for word about their children. There was no real danger to students or teachers in either incident. At Stevenson, someone had seen kids with a pellet gun hunting near the wooded campus. At the schools, a child saw two journalism students with a photographer’s tripod and thought it was a gun.
In these times, when the names of schools from Columbine to Sandy Hook have come to stand for unimaginable acts of violence, the public has a heightened sense of fear and vigilance, and a feeling that perhaps schoolhouses aren’t safe places. “Our shared cultural experience now includes such traumatic incidents,” said Davis Shingleton, a school psychiatrist. “We have to face reality, and the reality is that these things have occurred and could occur. That knowledge causes anxiety and hypervigilance, which must be managed.” Some students and parents criticize school officials for overreacting. “I think anytime in the months after a high-profile national tragedy, there’s always heightened awareness, heightened sensitivity erring on the side of safety,” said Kenneth Trump of National School Safety and Security Services in Cleveland. “Oftentimes we see overreaction. You see that heightened response. That’s OK. You want people to respond. We want threats to be treated seriously.”