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The Incident at George Washington High, 2059

This fictional short story is inspired by the recent massacre in Parkland and the national conversation we are having today about how to best protect our students.

CW: gun violence

Mari Butler | February, 2018

Ms. Feldman’s day began like any other. She rose promptly at 5:55, scratched her orange cat under her thick chin, and began preparing for another bright day with her students. As she shuffled in her worn, drearily pink robe toward the bathroom, her plump cat followed. Ginger usually sat on the vanity counter as Ms. Feldman prepared for her day, her luscious fat and velvety fur receiving pats and pets for the good 40 minutes she spent there.
This morning, Ms. Feldman chose a severe black dress with a boxy cut – all the better for her display of power. It was well-known among the teaching community that the more a teacher looked the part, the more inherent respect was given. This is the reality of most lives, really, though Ms. Feldman did admit it had been much easier to command inherent respect with the new public school policies.
Ms. Feldman didn’t remember the exact moment it occurred to her that teaching would be her feet-ache-inducing, ever-frustrating yet most rewarding-by-far career. She just shaped herself into a “good teacher.” Her studies at the state university provided volumes of insight and experience; where other students struggled to grasp concepts and develop the art of teaching, Ms. Feldman excelled. She imagined always remembering grasping her diploma at the end of four exciting and exhausting years of study for that secondary-education degree.
The dean had held her hand firmly, smiled widely with his coffee-stained grin, and congratulated her. “You, Mary, are one of the best. You will change lives. Go make a difference.”
Mary Feldman had graduated at the top of her class.
“Thank you, sir. I will.” And she intended to.
With Ginger scratched, fed, and watered, Ms. Feldman assembled her usual lunch sandwich of turkey and pepperjack cheese – for a little spice in life. Her books and papers strewn about from the previous night’s grading were packed neatly into her work bag.
Finally, before Ms. Feldman went out her door, she picked up her school-issued Ruger LCP, checked the chamber to be certain it was loaded, and strapped it to her black shoulder harness.
She had picked the black harness over the creme-colored when the district offered the choice to their employees. Black tended to match more of her outfits.
George Washington High was a renowned public school in its quiet Iowa town. In late fall, golden corn fields surrounded the quaint lot of the school’s grounds, though the fields were not visible from the grounds. The high school was blessed with generous funds from the wealthy suburban neighborhoods it served. The parents and students agreed – it was great to have the school just outside the crowded cityscape. Kids need fresh air. They need a little dirt and sunshine.
“When I was a kid, I still walked to school! Blazin’ heat and drizzlin’ rain. All the way.”
“Um-hm. You bet.”
“Least they’ve got that nice outdoors space ‘n all. Kids need some sunshine once ‘n a while.”
And sunshine they got. The perimeter of the renowned George Washington High School was protected with the most secure fencing on the market. Schools across the state envied it. The ten-foot wonder included electrified barbed-wire atop the perimeter and heat-tripped alarms for anyone who perused too close. It was the epitome of safety and security. Just last year, the sophomore class adorned a section with their art, to “make the place more cheerful,” according to administration.
In all honesty, the wall was a bit of an eye sore, and it did block the iconic view of the fields, but the community had voted with an overwhelming majority that the safety of their students had to come first, eyesore or not. The board wasn’t about to have a community mutiny on their hands (it doesn’t fare well for most boards) so they complied, passed the motion, and had the wall installed that very year.
Eyesore or not, the art helped.
Ms. Feldman breathed more calmly once she passed through the employee security gate. It shut and sealed itself behind her as she drove to her designated parking space. She had worried about the fog on the way over; it was quite thick that morning. But then, she wasn’t used to attending school with such inclement weather. She remembered when it used to be an issue for students to arrive safely at such times. The thought was fleeting.
In addition to the state-of-the-art security fence, the community had recently invested in an automatic transit system for all students. Transportation was no longer an issue for inclement weather in their high-powered bullet train. It whipped delicately and unstoppably around the suburban neighborhoods, offering its bulletproofed windows and air-tight compartments as protection against nearly any attack. Each train car was outfitted with panic buttons, programmed to contact authorities and lock down the compartment in the event of a dangerous intrusion.
School-wide surveys showed that students and staff alike felt completely safe in their public school setting with these new upgrades. The prospect of a dangerous intruder was logically nil, with such a secure perimeter, excellent transit, and armed teachers. Students and staff had never felt safer. Survey results reflected as much:
Jeannie: I used to be afraid to attend school with all the national school emergencies. Now, at George Washington High, I feel completely safe.
Zander: I know that my teachers can help me with my math skills, and protect me with their school-issued weapons in the event of an emergency.
Dyllon: I have friends who attend Carter High, and they say they don’t always feel safe after school shootings. I know I have nothing to worry about since my school has taken steps against such attacks. It’s clear that more teachers should have guns to protect their students.
Katie: I think it’s so cool teachers have the training for their school weapons. They can fight the bad guys for us.
Really, school security measures were so successful at George Washington High, they were regarded as the “Safest School in the Nation” by the National Association of Gun Safety in Public Schools, in collaboration with the National Rifle Association.
It’s not that George Washington High had been unsafe before these changes; but the national epidemic of school shootings and public demand had been strong. George Washington High had been lucky enough to have the tax dollars to fund such a secure place for their treasured students.
All this Ms. Feldman reflected upon as she walked through the metal detectors of the eastern doorway. She nodded at Philip, the eastern door security guard as she un-holstered her Ruger and put it in the security bucket along with her keys and school bag. As the bucket ticked through the machine on the conveyor belt, Philip engaged Ms. Feldman in general morning chit-chat.
“Morning, Ms. Mary.”
“How-dee-do, Mr. Phil.”
“Morning news was a shame, huh?” Phil delicately swept his metal detector over Ms. Feldman’s arms, thighs, torso…
“Shame,” Ms. Feldman sighed. “If only more schools would arm up. We could avoid this mess.”
“Sure-enough.” Philip sniffed.
“I mean how many innocent students have to die before our great country gets a grip? Since we’ve armed ourselves, a shooter would be crazy to attack here.”
“I’m sure you’re right.” Philip handed Ms. Feldman the items from her bucket, Ruger last. She gracefully clipped it to her harness; it was second-nature to her now.
“If only more districts would adapt the Carry-Policy,” Ms. Feldman reflected as her parting words to the friendly guard. She turned as a colleague entered the door behind her. “Hello, Bill.”
A tall, lanky man was putting his belongings into a security bucket. He un-holstered a small handgun from his shoulder harness, detached another from his calf, and revealed a hidden knife under his buttoned shirt sleeve.
“Morning, Mary.” Bill’s voice was as chipper as ever.
The teacher’s bucket ticked slowly down the security station’s conveyor.
Classes began promptly at 8:15, and Ms. Feldman stood every morning by her door greeting her young adult students. She gazed with admiration at the well-mannered students. Recently, she noticed a change in their demeanor. They ran less, cussed less, hardly raised their voice, and sleeping in class had all but been eradicated.
“Mr. Johnson. Ms. Wilson. Good morning, Jenny.” Ms. Feldman warmly greeted the students as they entered.
Raucous laughter split down the hall. Ms. Feldman was sharp. “Students!” It wasn’t a bark, but it was stern enough to get to the point. She didn’t even have to warn them to quiet down. They did immediately.
Ms. Feldman straightened her shirt and her Ruger’s holster.
It was a normal day. Today Ms. Feldman and her students were studying the popular work of Orwell. She personally loved this day. It was the perfect chance to show students how lucky they were.
“Tell me your thoughts about this, students.”
They were momentarily silent. Shy, even. Ms. Feldman liked to think this was due to their modest, polite disposition. Really, they were such well behaved students for their age.
Marcia raised a timid hand. Ms. Feldman nodded toward her. “I think, Ms. Feldman, that the citizens in 1984 have a sad life. It’s sad that they aren’t experiencing true freedom.”
“An apt analysis, Ms. Wilson.” Mary Feldman gleamed.
“Yeah,” a sandy-haired student broke in. “Oh– Sorry.” He stopped himself short and raised his hand. He eyed his teacher’s weapon sheepishly.
“It’s alright, Jeffery. You may add on.”
“It’s hard to read that the people don’t see how they are being, um, oppressed.”
Ms. Feldman could tell that this would be a good day for class discussion.
Things went normally for the morning classes. At lunch, as usual, Ms. Feldman locked her door from the outside using her fingerprint, set the alarm in case of intruders, and walked calmly toward the staff room. Just like any other day. She passed the security cameras and noted their persistent blinking light that signaled their working order. When she reached the staff room, she placed her thumb on the scanner to enter.
Then it happened.
TEACHERS. REPORT TO YOUR POSTS. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. CODE 3. REPEAT. REPORT TO YOUR POSTS. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. The general announcement echoed through the hallway.
There was a moment of utter fear that collected in Ms. Feldman’s throat. Then she snapped to order.
Code 3. This was not a drill.
She spun on her heel and practiced breathing in time, as she had been trained, and walked to her room. Her post. Breathe – 2 -3 -4… Out – 2 – 3 – 4…
It was time for all this preparation and planning to pay off.

TEACHERS. KEY IN YOUR CODE TO LISTEN TO THE UPDATES FROM YOUR POST.
Breathe – 2 -3 -4… Out – 2 – 3 – 4…
Mary Feldman used her fingerprint to unlock her door and in one sweep was in her room, locking it back up from the other side.
Breathe – 2 -3 -4… Out – 2 – 3 – 4…
Her thoughts touched upon the students and where they were. They were at lunch. It would be fine, as long as The Intruder was not located in the lunchroom. The lunchroom was fully automated to lock down with blast doors, military grade, during a Code 3.
They will be fine, she convinced herself. Besides, this was not what she needed to think about. Her duty was to protect students. She would comply with this duty. It was mechanical.
Breathe – 2 -3 -4… Out – 2 – 3 – 4…
In one motion she took up her post and keyed in the access code to the school radio system, installed by each door. The radio was chattering away.

INTRUDER HAS BEEN LOCATED. WALKING DOWN EAST HALL.

WHAT IS INTRUDER WEARING?

HOODIE. JEANS.

VISUAL ON INTRUDER. IN THE WEST HALLWAY.
Breathe – 2 -3 -4… Out – 2 – 3 – 4…
Ms. Feldman visualized her actions, to steady herself. She opened the hatch next to her door with her fingerprint to retrieve the stockpile located there. She took out the weapon that felt the most comfortable to her – the AR 15. She opened the slot next to her door, the slot through which she could aim her weapon. She opened the sight panel inches above.
Breathe – 2 -3 -4… Out – 2 – 3 – 4…

INTRUDER IS LIKELY ARMED. SUSPECTED GUN.

INTRUDER IS BEHAVING LIKE HE IS CARRYING A CONCEALED WEAPON.

SIGHTS ON THE INTRUDER?

INTRUDER IS MOVING TOWARD EAST HALL.
Breathe – 2 -3 -4… Out – 2 – 3 – 4…
A flash of movement. Her pupils narrowed to near pin-points and focused on the flash. Intruder is moving toward east hall… She had to be sure. It was all part of the training. Hours of training for this exact moment.
The Intruder came into view. “I have sights on The Intruder.”

COPY.

WHO HAS A SHOT?
The radio system hissed through her ears like a torrent. Mary Feldman’s blood pounded. She had to calm down. She had to. It was part of her training.
Breathe – 2 -3 -4… Out – 2 – 3 – 4…
She had a good look at him. He was a young man. Black. His hooded sweatshirt was pulled up and he was dodgily walking the halls. Typical. He was definitely a threat.
“Any sight on the weapon?”

NEGATIVE.

AFFIRMATIVE.
“Negative or affirmative?”
The Intruder looked shifty. What was he doing here? The alarm started to blare. She had forgotten about the alarm. Funny it had not been activated sooner. Had it malfunctioned?
But she didn’t have time to think about malfunctioning alarms. She had a duty.
Breathe – 2 -3 -4… Out – 2 – 3 – 4…

CONFIRMED – INTRUDER HAS A WEAPON.
The Intruder was an open target. The Intruder was a threat. Mary Feldman would not let The Intruder impose damage upon her students.
Breathe – 2 -3 -4… Out – 2 – 3 – 4…
“Clear shot on The Intruder. Permission to shoot.” Her voice wavered imperceptibly to her colleagues.
The radio hissed back at her: PERMISSION GRANTED PER THE AUTHORITY OF THE SUPERINTENDENT.
Breathe – 2 -3 -4… Out – 2 – 3 – 4…
Why on Earth was The Intruder just wandering around such a high-security school? He must have a death wish… She pushed the distracting thoughts aside. The Intruder stopped to examine something. Ms. Feldman couldn’t tell precisely what. It didn’t matter. This was her duty, and the permission had been granted.
The Intruder turned. Sheer panic shone in his eyes.
He looked wildly at her. For a moment, he looked through the sight hatch, through her AR 15’s scope, into her eyes, and beyond.
Mary Feldman fired.
The headline the following day read: Unarmed Student Shot in Halls of George Washington High.
George Washington High promptly scheduled a professional development session for their staff pertaining to safe gun usage and how to effectively determine threatening intruders, per the policy. The superintendent personally attended to address “The Incident.”
Mary Feldman was granted a week of leave, per the policy. She stayed home with fat, luxurious Ginger, recovering from “The Incident.”
Damien Lehman, 15, was buried in Hickory Cemetery on a foggy October morning, and was survived by his mother and father, Camilla and Marcus Lehman, and siblings Olivia, age 12, and Andrew, age 7. Damien played the trumpet in marching band and played center for the boy’s soccer team before “The Incident.”

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