Our school is still safe

Published 9:02 am Saturday, December 22, 2018

By Christoph Dundas

Parent of four APS students, and teacher at Austin High School

As the events of earlier this week unfolded, I have had many conversations with and messages from parents and students who are worried about safety and security at Austin High School, and fear that a crumpled note on a restroom floor suddenly turned Austin High School into “one of THOSE schools” that people have seen in the news.  But, in my opinion, the thing that has changed, however, is NOT that we are any suddenly less safe today than we were on Monday morning.  Rather, it is that students no longer have the innocence of thinking that nothing bad could ever happen.

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The feeling of lying awake at night worrying reminds me of a few years ago when my wife and I bought our first house in Plainview.  After a few months I spotted some minor evidence that there may be a mouse in the house.  As anyone with mice knows, you can either trap the mouse or pretend it isn’t there and hope it leaves, but either way, you’ll lie awake worrying about it.  Over a few days I trapped a couple mice and tracked the “evidence” through the house to find that a previous owner had put in a new dryer vent but hadn’t sealed around the outside opening.  Once I sealed the gap, the mice stopped coming in, and I slept better at night.

Christoph Dundas, Parent of four APS students, and
teacher at Austin High School

What I realized later is that a mouse could have gotten in anytime through the gap in the wall, but I just didn’t know about the gap for several months.  Nothing changed in the security of our house; and while we felt less “safe” from mice, the opposite was true, as we found the problem and fixed it.  Like Austin High School today, we didn’t have a change in safety or security; instead, we had lost the innocence of believing that nothing could ever get in.

For me, that “loss of innocence” and first high school feeling of being unsafe happened 17 years ago.  As I sat in my 10th grade Accounting class during 2nd period, the principal came on the intercom to share with the school the events happening in New York City.  The date was Sept. 11, 2001. As a society, in that one moment, we lost the ability to feel safe and secure, and lost the sense that nothing could ever happen to us.  Some responded with fear, some with anger, some with hatred, some with a desire for revenge.  But collectively, we as Americans agreed that we needed to re-create the sense of security for the next generation.

I imagine that many Austin High School students (and parents and staff) are feeling, on a local level, that same loss of innocence.  We are no less safe at school today than we were on Monday morning, but a new collective awareness has given rise to a shared sense of apprehension.  Fueled by rumors, misinformation, and several different fake photos of “The Note” shared through social media, many people are responding as if something bad HAS happened, when in fact, it hasn’t.  In fact, the opposite is true: we stopped something from happening.  Someone saw something and told the right person, who talked to the right people, and set a plan in motion to ensure the safety of our students and school.

I hope that today you are able to realize that you — we — are just as safe as we were just a few days ago. It isn’t our safety that has changed; it is our feeling of safety and our perceived innocence that has been lost.  But if we allow a crumpled note on a bathroom floor to determine our security, then we allow that crumpled note to serve the same purpose as the threat it included.  I feel safe at Austin High School, and the overwhelming majority of staff members here on Tuesday morning who came to school (and brought their children to class) tell me that I’m not alone.  Bad things can happen anywhere, but that threat is not enough to stop us from our mission: Engaging and empowering ALL learners for life!

Thank you to the MANY people who worked diligently to keep me, my children, my students, and my colleagues safe!