By: Paulina Nieto
PTS Falconer Contributor
December 12, 2018
There’s a 5x7 card sitting unused in a clear receptacle at the door of every Palmer Trinity classroom. Outlined in dark red and printed in capital letters are the words,
“CODE RED: ASSUME IMMINENT DANGER ON CAMPUS.”
Six bullet points give instructions to teachers on what should happen when the code red announcement is called; six vague bullet points that don’t identify what an “Imminent Danger” may be. After a semicolon, not even in its own bullet point, “hide if needed” is briefly mentioned.
In a country where there have been nearly as many shootings as days of the year in 2018, and where the political climate is so focused on the safety of kids in schools regarding active shooter threats, it’s important to review the regulations close to home. The Parkland shooting, after all, happened only an hour away from Palmer’s campus, bringing a very harsh reality to the table - how exactly does Palmer prepare for such a difficult situation? Should Palmer enforce Code Red drills, the official name for what is considered an active shooter situation?
A code yellow, on the other hand, is practiced often, and it’s summarized on the flip side of that 5x7 card. Students know exactly what steps they should take during this code; they drop their bags near the back wall, chatting away unwittingly. Class goes on as normal, and a bell lets them know when they can move on to their next class, a seemingly unimportant drill.
It’s this complacency that scares Mr. Eric Ballesteros, librarian at Palmer Trinity, into not wanting any active shooter drills. He has seen kids treat this drill with no importance, disregarding most of the protocol that comes with Code Yellow.
“Having drills like that would desensitize people. It would normalize a situation like that, kind of like violence in video games. People already don’t take fire drills and Code Yellows seriously; and you can’t really practice for a school shooter situation. It just happens,” He says, as he leans over the desk.
There’s a very different reaction, however, from the Palmer Trinity student body. Many believe that the school isn’t practicing enough red codes, and is practicing too many of the yellow codes that students believe does not enforce a strict protocol. Some students even allege that there has never been a Code Red practiced in their time here.
Rafa Chediak is a senior at Palmer Trinity, and she claims, “In all my time at Palmer, there has never once been a Code Red drill. It surprises me, because this is such an open campus. My old school had them all the time- three times a year, maybe? I just feel like there should be more.”
Other students agree- in a time of so much uncertainty and so much violence on the news, it’s human nature to want to feel protected, or at least safe, within a learning environment. For some, an active shooter drill- or what in Palmer is considers a Code Red because it counts as an imminent danger on campus- makes them feel a bit more prepared in case a situation like that ever occurs.
One of these people is Owen Reynolds, president of the junior class. “It’s like studying for a test but then finding out that the test isn’t going to happen today,” He claims. “I know all the information, and I’m prepared for the reschedule- God forbid that reschedule ever actually happen.”
When asked if he feels as if though Code Red drills would normalize a school shooting situation, he laughed nervously and said, “You can’t normalize something that’s already normal.”
For other students, the reality of a school shooting hasn’t dawned on them. “It never really occurred to me that school shooting could happen at Palmer. It seems distant, or far off. I just don’t think that any student would be in such a bad place,” says Gregorio Ramos, a 6th grader at Palmer who was one of the few that were willing to be quoted on this subject.
His classmates, too shy to provide names, all came to the same consensus- an active shooter drill is too scary to be practiced as casually as a fire drill or a code yellow.
Ramos added,“I don’t think there’s any point in ignoring something that we see in the news everyday. It might be scary, but at least I know what needs to happen.”
It’s Paul Zamek, head of operations here at Palmer Trinity, who has the final say in these kinds of decisions- the ones that decide whether or not the campus should practice active shooter drills.
In his email to me after I asked to interview him, he sent a detailed description of the “PTS Crisis Management Plan” - what a code yellow entails, what a code red entails, and the difference between the two. It’s the same basic information that is on that condensed card, yet fleshed out. It was valuable information, that might calm an anxious student, or might reassure a parent sending their child to school everyday.
Six bullet points on a 5x7 card may not be enough to make people feel prepared, however. When asked if Palmer is planning to perform any code red drills, Mr. Zamek responded that because of the expanding campus, it was important to bring in more experienced trainers. “We are working with Miami Dade County Police to host a training here on campus in the spring of 2019,” he writes.
Code yellow drills are practiced once a semester, while code red has not been practiced yet. The concerns of some students were raised to Mr. Zamek during the interview, defending that the code red drill needs to be practiced more often in order to keep Palmer protected.
“I believe it's the quality of the drill, in addition to the quantity. However, in the end, there is no substitute for good judgement. If you have the right training in place along with practice, good judgement can guide your actions in the event of an emergency,” Zamek says.
All in all, the Palmer Trinity community agrees on one thing- drills are pivotal in keeping the campus safe. As Mr. Zamek sums up nicely at the end of his interview,
“Being prepared for any event can save lives.”