I work as a substitute teacher occasionally. It’s a fun job. You chill with kids, read books to them, and most importantly you help public schools.
Teachers are like the rest of us. They get sick sometimes. Their kids can get sick. They have sitters who occasionally fall through and can’t watch the kids. So teachers have to cope with sometimes having to not go to work, and schools have to cope with a substitute teacher shortage while they try to make sure the students still have an adult in the classroom.
If you can be a substitute teacher, even for just one day a week, you are doing kids and schools an immeasurable service.
Anyway, back to my story. I substitute teach sometimes. And one day, just as I was about to dismiss a class to lunch, I heard over the loudspeaker that there had been a “spill in the hallway” so all students had to remain in classrooms until the spill was cleaned up. “Stay in your classrooms please! We don’t need people tracking the spill everywhere. We will tell you when you can leave.”
“Stay in class guys,” I said.
The class sat back down and fidgeted. I stood by the door. This was annoying. One spill and no student was allowed to leave the classroom? That seemed excessive. Just rope off the spill in the hallway and let people leave.
The loudspeaker clicked on a couple more times. “Please stay in your classrooms! We’re still cleaning up the spill.”
How long does it take to clean up a spill? Was this one of those insurance things where even a small accident that can cause a student to slip and fall and hurt himself merited everyone to stay in their classrooms?
“Do you know what a spill REALLY is?” I overheard one student tell another.
“It means someone PEED in the hallway! And they have to clean up the pee!”
The class giggled and said “Ew! Ew! Ew!” “Settle down,” I said, but I wondered if the student were right. Urine is technically a biohazard so there may be some firm rules about students staying in classrooms until a biohazardous substance was cleaned. That made a little more sense.
Still seemed a bit excessive though.
After about twenty minutes the loudspeaker clicked on and said we could all leave our classrooms. The spill was cleaned. “Thanks for your patience folks!”
I later talked to the teachers during lunch. “It is a bit frustrating that lunch is shorter because of that spill situation. Does that happen often?”
The teachers all looked at each other. “No, not often,” said one teacher.
“Don’t tell the students this,” another teacher told me, “But there wasn’t actually a spill.”
“Huh?” I was confused. “So what was the whole….?”
“We have a lot of behavioral kids here at the school,” one teachers said, “They’re all good kids but sometimes one of them has a bad day and he has a meltdown. He can’t control it, he becomes dangerous, starts punching teachers … and we have to declare a crisis. Then we call the ambulance and the police and lock down the school.”
“Yeah,” another teacher said, “We don’t want to scare the kids, so we don’t say ‘We’re in lockdown.’ We just say ‘There’s a spill in the hallway. There’s a mess in the hallway. Stay in your classrooms until we clean the spill.’”
“We just don’t want the kids to start seeing police officers and paramedics,” the first teacher continued. “And we don’t want them to see a kid in crisis. We want to preserve privacy too.”
“Ooohhh,” Suddenly everything made sense. Forbidding students to leave their classrooms because someone spilled a bit of juice in a hallway? Delaying lunch by thirty minutes because maybe one of the first graders had an accident? The oddly long time it took to clean up a simple spill?
Of course it had been a code!
The word “lockdown” strikes so much fear in people’s hearts these days. If a child with autism is simply having a bad day, the word “lockdown” doesn’t need to be uttered over the loudspeaker while staff take the child to the hospital. “Spill,” in my opinion, is a fantastic substitute code word.
Even if it does mean we’ll be late for lunch.