Gut-Wrenching Letter From An Oregon Teacher To Lawmakers: ‘We Need Courage Not Prayers’

Melissa Duclos is a teacher at a community college in Oregon. According to an open letter she wrote to lawmakers featured on Salon, she had just started a creative writing class on Thursday, October 1st. With the shootings at Umpqua Community College saturating the news, Duclos realized she hadn’t been properly trained in the school’s emergency protocols for an active shooter situation.

For this very frightened creative writing teacher, it seemed like quite a daunting task. She wrote in her letter:

“What should I do in the event of what we now call, with heartbreaking regularity, an active shooter situation? According to my school’s Emergency Response Guide, I should attempt to evacuate my students if it is deemed safe to do so. My classroom is on the third floor; to evacuate we would need to descend two flights down an open staircase, and exit through a wide lobby. We would need to know with absolute certainty that the active shooter was not on the third floor, or the second, or anywhere in the lobby. In other words, evacuation, my first course of action, seems highly unlikely.”

How many other teachers across the country are faced with this same dilemma? Consider that as the students get younger, keeping them calm and quiet becomes more and more important, yet that much more difficult. Evacuation into what can only be described as a war zone is a terrifying prospect for anyone, never mind a school teacher and her group of innocent and terrified students. Duclos continues:

“The next option, according to my college, is to lock the door. This unfortunately is not possible, as the door to my classroom can only be locked with a key, a key that I do not have and won’t ever be given. Left, then, in my third-floor classroom with its unlocked door, I am instructed to turn off the lights and lower the blinds, to use the tables to build a barricade, and get everyone out of the line of fire. I am further instructed to ‘arm [myself] with classroom items (e.g., stapler, chair, fire extinguisher) to fight back with in the event that the shooter attempts to enter [my] room.’

“In the next paragraph, I am told what to do if that shooter does in fact enter our classroom: ‘There is no one procedure that can be recommended in this situation,’ the manual informs me with grim honesty, before adding, ‘[i]f you must fight, fight to win and survive.'”

She continues, with the harsh reality of a school teacher armed with a stapler waiting patiently for impending doom fresh in the reader’s mind, to lay the reality of this situation out for the lawmakers who refuse to do their jobs. Melissa Duclos and her students would at this point be a huddled mass of fear, destined to become the subject of prayers from lawmakers to their families should an actual shooter walk into that room.

Duclos is convinced that handing teachers guns is a mistake. She has a master’s degree in creative writing; this should not be part of her job, and yet it is. The reality that a madman could single out the school she works in became a reality on her very first day. Maybe not at her school, but at one just like it. Rural Oregon is no safer than the inner city of New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles between the sounds of the morning and dismissal bells.

Duclos goes on to describe that as a mother, she’s deathly afraid of how to approach the subject with her five-year-old when he starts kindergarten. At that age it will probably seem like a game, but as he gets older he’ll grow up with the stark reality that it’s a distinct possibility that an armed gunman could burst through the door one day, putting an end to construction paper 101 in a blaze of madness.

She then turns her fear into anger and lets lawmakers have it:

“I could tell them that your thoughts and prayers are with us. I could tell them we have your deepest sympathies. But I am teaching a class on argument, instructing my students on the importance of facts. So instead I will tell them the truth: They have to be prepared to hide out of the line of fire, and I to fight for our survival, because you, our lawmakers, haven’t done your jobs. I will tell them that their rights, my rights, the rights of my 5-year-old, to attend school without fear of facing senseless slaughter by machine-gun fire, are not important to you, that we must be prepared to fight tooth and nail, stapler and whiteboard marker, because you refuse to fight the gun lobby in this country.”

That’s the harsh reality teachers face every day. As their students huddle behind not-so-bullet-proof desks as they themselves are faced with the stark reality that a sharpened pencil may be their only line of defense against 180 grains of insanity, lawmakers continue to cozy up to the gun lobby, pandering to the NRA’s bank account rather than caring about the lives of their constituents.

Featured image: