Beyond the supplies themselves, which she’s grateful to have, it was the nonchalant way the buckets, kitty litter, and Sharpie marker were handed out during a routine back-to-school training that shook Jeffco Public Schools teacher Cassie Lopez.
“We were doing [professional development], and it was like, ‘Oh, get your buckets, and this is what your buckets are for,’” Lopez sad. “It was shocking. I was pretty upset afterward.”
The buckets and kitty litter are for students to use as toilets in case of a prolonged lockdown triggered by a threat inside the school. The Sharpie is for teachers to write the time they applied a tourniquet to a bleeding student, so paramedics know how long it’s been on. Lopez also got a kit that includes normal first-aid supplies, as well as candy to give to students with diabetes in case they experience low blood sugar while hiding in the classroom.
The head of school safety for Jeffco Public Schools described the supplies, and other new safety efforts, as innovative approaches to a problem with which the suburban Denver district has firsthand experience. Jeffco Public Schools is home to Columbine High School, where two teens murdered 12 of their classmates and a teacher 20 years ago.
“These events aren’t specific to us, but we have associated experience that is on the front page of the paper constantly,” said John McDonald, executive director of the district’s department of school safety. “Part of our responsibility is to be on the leading edge and take it seriously.”
The day Lopez received the supplies, she made a short video expressing how she felt.
Cassie, an amazing educator and friend of mine, shared this video today. This is the current reality in our public schools. This cannot be allowed to be the new normal. #ThisIsAmerica pic.twitter.com/4xeS2wsXVh— Melea Mayen (@MFoleyMayen) August 13, 2019
Lopez wants to be clear: She’s not upset at the school for providing these supplies. She’s upset that teachers today have to worry about things like tying tourniquets.
“It feels like as a whole, America doesn’t care about our school children, which I don’t even have words for how awful that is,” Lopez said. “It feels like there’s this pressure for teachers to put your life on the line. That’s a lot to ask from teachers.”
This isn’t the first year Jeffco teachers have been given “go buckets,” and Lopez’s school isn’t the only one that uses them. McDonald estimates that more than half of Jeffco’s 158 schools have the buckets, along with pop-up tents or shower curtains meant to give students privacy.
The idea was born a few years ago after one school in the district, Alameda International Junior/Senior High School, experienced an hourslong lockdown due to a report of a gun in the school, McDonald said. Students ended up relieving themselves in trash cans and closets, he said.
The buckets aren’t required, though McDonald said they are highly recommended.
“We want to give our kids dignity in the middle of this type of crisis,” he said.
The Sharpies are part of a broader effort to teach educators to better respond in situations in which students or colleagues may be wounded. It includes what McDonald describes as a new, unique-to-Jeffco “school nurse response team” of 33 school nurses with emergency room and trauma experience who can provide medical care in the case of shootings or other crises.
Jeffco Public Schools has also started offering “stop the bleed” training to teach educators how to tie tourniquets and pack wounds. Eventually, McDonald said the hope is to train students, too.
“We really start with a belief that training creates a fundamental climate and culture of school safety, and you can be emergency prepared without being emergency scared,” he said.
Lopez hasn’t yet received the training. In fact, when her supervisors handed out the Sharpies, she said even they weren’t sure of the purpose. Teachers in the training began guessing and settled on the theory that the markers were to write the time a tourniquet was applied.
It turns out they were right.