Column

Penkava: When only the children hear the Code Red

Michael Penkava
Michael Penkava

Code Red. It’s the most chilling of all the color codes. It means tragedy is not only coming, but it has arrived. It might be a fire. A natural disaster. A heart attack.

When we hear a Code Red announced, we could be listening to the radio or shopping at Walmart or visiting a friend in the hospital.

But there’s one Code Red that our children will hear. They will hear it while they are sitting in a classroom learning how to conjugate a French verb. Or identifying “x” in a math equation. Or looking at protozoa in a microscope.

Some children will come to school that day bored, others excited and still others will spend their day miles away in their imaginations. But they all will come innocent. They all will come trusting. And they all will come loved dearly.

Code Red. Death stalks the hallways. Doors are locked. Blinds are closed. Lights are turned off. Students huddle in dark corners. They hold each other tightly, clinging to ones they have hardly talked with before. They pray. They cry. They send their final text messages.

Teachers stand guard at the classroom door. Here they will make their last stand to protect their kids. Their job description suddenly shifts from educator to human shield, and they seamlessly slip into their new role, like a superhero in a movie.

There are gunshots and gasps. The teacher whispers to his students to try to keep quiet. Don’t make a sound. The doors are locked. Everything will be OK.

But it won’t be OK.

Even the best-case scenario includes frantically sprinting with their hands in the air, running past bodies scattered in the hallways, into the light of day filled with flashing lights and sirens and lines of police carrying the very kind of weapons they are fleeing from.

They eventually will be reclaimed from the scene of the tragedy by their families. They will go home and talk and cry and try to sleep. They will go to rallies and funerals and return to school. But they won’t be OK. And they are the lucky ones.

The families who lost children will never, ever be OK. The first responders will not be OK. And let’s not kid ourselves. None of us will be OK.

The only outcomes for our children today seem to be that they either lose their lives or they lose their innocence. What sad prospects for those to whom we promised to forever love and protect, for it is hollow words they hear, and real hope they lack.

Our schoolhouses have become slaughterhouses as our kids sit helplessly in class waiting for the next Code Red. The one adults don’t seem to hear.

This can’t be what our children’s lives are supposed to be like.

It. Just. Can’t. Be.

• Michael Penkava taught a bunch of kids and wrote a bunch of stuff. He went through a real Code Red with his third-grade students. Fortunately, nothing tragic happened, but he remembers praying that he would be brave enough to do whatever it took to protect his kids. He can be reached at mikepenkava@comcast.net.

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