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Corbyn Hightower Headshot

Locked Out of the Schoolyard

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You can keep your guns, but do you have to take away our schoolyards? This morning, a shooter was reported at an elementary school in Georgia. And now, there's one more strike in the column for schools being on, essentially, lock-down: sealed at every entrance and exit, and only accessible to parents by pre-arranged agreement.

In deference to the what seems to be a lawless, apocalyptic Mad Max kind of world we're apparently living in, today (by sheer coincidence) marked the beginning of my kids' elementary school's enactment of what I'm gonna call the Stand Your Playground law. There are no parents on the campus at all, not even at pick-up and drop-off. All adults must be there on official capacity, sign in and state their business at the front office, and be escorted to the appropriate classroom. All entrances and exits were on manned lock-down. Did Molly, who just started first grade yesterday, find her classroom this morning in the fracas of kickball and hopscotch? If it had been any of my other children, I'd have been more concerned. I'm no helicopter parent, but when my other two were Molly's age, they were greatly comforted just leaning on my hip as we stood in line, and taking it all in, the newness, the vastness of the schoolyard and all the children. You know... just for the first week or two, and on rare occasions thereafter.

Today, the parents at my kids' school were confused and kind of sad. We made a loose cluster around the fence and looked -- just a little wistfully -- at the blacktop where we used to exchange idle gossip, compare hangovers and plan play dates in the long minutes before First Bell.

It was a poignant sight to see the moms and dads crouching for "one last kiss" from tiny puckers behind the chainlink fence. All in the name of "safety," I guess... although I can't help but think back to the occasions when I'd been at the airport and discovered, horrified, that I was in unintentional possession of a box cutter, Swiss Army knife or a lighter when on the wrong side of the TSA checkpoint. If my cluttered purse was enough to evade their security measures, then what kind of security was it? The theatrical kind?

And what kind of safety and security does a battened-down campus afford the children? I put the question out to my friends this morning, and got a range of responses. A fellow mama had this to say: "We are a community... we are partners in our children's education. Part of the relationship-building includes escorting your kiddo to their classroom door if you choose to do so," greeting the teacher, sharing a tidbit about homework difficulty, etc. One of my friends (a rare dissenter) said she thought it was about time our school made this timely change, that she had found it disconcerting to see one of her daughters talking and eating cake with a "stranger" (another parent). But on the whole, my acquaintances shared the feelings expressed by my friend Hirsh: "I'm thankful our school hasn't bought into the hype. We still have great morning meetings. The school seems to continue to have this notion that parental involvement and activity on campus is essential to providing a good education and healthy environment." And yes, he is referring to the ease of being with and around your children before the bell rings... in the schoolyard, in the hallways and at the crucial portal, the classroom door: Where you leave your cherished child into the care of another. That daily pass-off is an important connection point for a lot of us, allowing us to make eye-contact with the person we're trusting with the hearts and minds of our impressionable children.

Statistically speaking, it's exceedingly rare that your school campus will be under assault by a crazed gunman. In light of what (thankfully very few) other parents have experienced in regards to violent offenders on campus, it might seem insensitive to complain. But we're letting go of the type of daily safety and security that comes from connecting with other parents and teachers as our children start and end their day. It seems like a small thing, but it adds up to a huge thing: community. We're isolated in our cars, at our jobs and behind our screens... but the schoolyard was one of the few holdouts where you could reliably gather with other families in your area. I feel attacked, and I feel like something grounding and important has been taken away from me.