“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Southern California has an earthquake drill

Today, California had an earthquake drill to simulate a 7.6 quake. The idea is to prepare schools, government buildings and businesses for what to do. The quake was to occur at 10:00 this morning.

One of my student teachers works with high school students with very severe intellectual and physical disabilities so I thought it would be interesting to go and view how the school would assist students in that type of a program/setting should such a natural disaster occur. As I was driving up, I noticed that what appeared to be the entire student body was standing and milling around on the football field. Of course! The way you prepare for such a disaster is to be in a safe area a half hour before it occurs. Why was I surprised?

When I went to the separate, county classroom area where the students with severe disabilities classrooms were, they were just coming back into the classroom. One student rolled into the room wearing a tee shirt that said on it, "insufficient memory" which was some parent's or group home's idea of a joke. I am sure the severely intellectually disabled student wearing the shirt had a great laugh over the message he was wearing. I never cease to be amazed at the things I see in special education settings. As the students sat there waiting, many of the aides barked at them to stop this or don't do that, very few actually attempting to converse, or explain to them what the change in schedule was about. As one tall autistic boy engaged in stereotypic behavior, his aide said to him, "That is a good autistic thing to do."

My student teacher told me that they were all just told to go out to the parking lot area for 20 minutes and then come back in. They then assembled in a large room, about 31 students most of whom were in wheelchairs, and people to assist them (about 20 teachers and ambulatory students). As the time came for the earthquake to start, I wondered what would happen. Well what happened was nothing. No drill, no noise or simulation of any kind. The whole thing appeared to be a waste of a half day of school.

It is important to me, however, that my teacher is prepared. She has a class of 9 students and two aides. I asked her to talk with her aides about what they would do in the event of a large earthquake. What do you do? Who do you take out first? She related that she and her aides were instructed to get under a table untill the quake was over and then help her students. I understand the rationality of that, but can you really imagine lying under a table in "safety" and watching while your totally defenseless, severely disabled students sit in their wheelchairs, or in their specialized seating devices, crying and screaming while the building falls down onto them. Do you think that would be the same instruction given to teachers working in a nursery? How about in another classroom. "Just get yourself safe and don't worry about your students till the whole thing is over." Do you think that is how teachers of non-disabled students would be instructed, or is there a double standard? Personally, I couldn't do it, and I think I wouldn't do it. If I am ever in such a situation, I pray that I wouldn't do it!

Afterwards, the students were rolled outside where the aides sat at a picnic table largely ignoring the students who sat there in their wheelchairs as the general ed students went back to class. Just another time for a break. This is typical. Any group setting is apparently time for the aides to be off and either socialize, or text message, or do their make-up. The ones I observed drank coke and talked.

I was so proud, however, of my student teacher and her aides who were really hustling! They got their students into walkers, or walked with them, or moved them into the classroom so they could get to work.



Anonymous said...

The interesting thing about the earthquake drill is that it is meant to prepare all teachers, workers, and students for the next big earthquake to hit California. Ironically, instructing aides to help themselves first and let their students fend for themselves does not prepare the disabled community in any way, shape, or form. The thing to put out about the entire situation is that when a pointless earthquake drill is conducted for the entire school, at least fully capable students will be able to take care of themselves. On the other hand, severely disabled students have no way of knowing exactly what to do or where to go when no previous information has been given to them.
In the case of a nursery, I wonder what caregivers are instructed to do. Are they supposed to get all of the children out before worrying about themselves? Even as an elementary school teacher, shouldn’t you be expected to be sure that all of your students are safe before taking care of yourself. Even in my own classroom, I hope that in the situation of an earthquake, I will be aware of all of my students and account for their safety. I think that the state needs to be a lot more considerate and create plans for safety in view of every student and those individual needs.

Mark said...

I work at a Non Public School in Southern California that serves a wide variety of students with severe disabilities, mostly behavioral, or the kids would still be in the public system. I must say, the way our school handled the earthquake drill was brilliant! We ignored it!
I don't think the administration wanted to know how poorly our staff would respond in an emergency.

No one knows what they should do, and no direction has been given. But if the behavior I witnessed from staff during a good size tremor we experienced last summer is any indication, my severely intellectually disabled students will be in a bad way. The staff is going to be gone!

My staff took direction and stayed in place, guiding the children to safer locations within the room. Outside our window, I saw numerous staff running outdoors alone (no one should ever do that, lest a house might fall on you too!)But there were the adults, with no kids, while the intercom was broadcasting that everyone stay put, don't run outside, but the adults had run outside, without their radios... they didn't hear the direction and they didn't have their students.

I lose sleep thinking about what will happen if a major disaster occurs while I am at work. It won't be pretty.

Julana said...

I agree with your observation that every group situation with staff involved seems to be viewed as an opportunity for socialization by the staff.

Anonymous said...

I am a teacher’s aide in an elementary school classroom. The students in the class are severely handicapped and orthopedically impaired. After reading this blog entry, it saddened me to hear that other teacher’s aides see events such as disaster drills as opportunities for additional break time or a chance to socialize. Our class did not participate in the large earthquake drill this month, the school was off-track at the time; however, I have been present for other earthquake and fire drills. During a recent drill, the class teacher, my fellow aide, and I did our best to ensure the students in our class understood what was going on. We practiced duck & cover and how to walk out to the safe area in the parking lot. During the 10 minutes we waited outside, we explained to the children the importance of the drill. It didn’t occur to me to sit down and strike up a non-work related conversation with the other aides, nor did I break out any snacks or beverages. My fellow teacher’s aide and I were too busy assisting the students to even consider that. I’d like to say I’m surprised by the behavior of the aides described in the blog entry; however, I’m not. I know such behavior exists. I consider myself fortunate to work with a teacher and another aide who are serious about their work and dedicated to the success and needs of the students.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree there is very much a double standard with the earthquake safety drill. I do not think regular ed teachers or nursery teachers would be asked to do the same as you mentioned. It reminds me of the way you are supposed to respond in the case of an airplane emergency. First, you are to place a breathing mask over your face, then assist other passengers such as children or persons with disabilities with theirs. I understand this concept a little bit more as you cannot help someone else if you are suffocating. However, the irony of the earthquake safety drill is that if you are safe during a major earthquake leaving disabled students to fend for themselves if at all possible according to school policy, then the only person who comes out ok will be the non-disabled. It would be like placing a mask over your face on an airplane during an emergency and not helping anyone else who might be helpless. This does not make any sense. I think it is cruel and completely unethical.
-Miranda Mindling

Anonymous said...

I was absolutely disgusted by the behavior of these aides. They took this job to help people, not socialize or look down on others. I don't understand why someone would take a job working with intellectually disabled children and then treat them cruelly and like they don't matter. They should be working in other fields because being a special education aide is not just about a paycheck, you actually have to really want to help others. I am astounded that one aide would actually say "That is a good autistic thing to do." Who says that? I don't understand how she still has a job. Does the teacher just let these comments slide? How about the principal? If that were my aide in my classroom, those comments would not be said. Period. It is rude and thoughtless. Also, why would the teacher allow a student to wear a shirt that says "insufficient memory" on it? I realize that teachers can't ban a shirt like that, but it sounds like a parent-teacher conference is desperately needed. These children should be respected and loved, not ridiculed by their families (or group homes) and classroom aides. It's just plain cruel.

Also, are these children's lives not worthy of being saved? How could they just sit there while supposedly a 7 pt + earthquake is taking place? What would happen to them if the roof caved in? They would be dead- or severely injured if they were lucky. There should be a procedure in place to ensure the safety of these students. How can they duck and cover if they have never been taught to do so? And where do students in wheelchairs hide? This drill not only sounds like a waist of time, but it doesn't ensure the safety of every student.

Julana said...

Maybe socializing by the staff is not all bad. It at least places students in a social environment, with models. A total lack of social fabric would seem very institutional. There has to be a balance, appropriate timing, and attempts to draw students into the socializing.
Sorry if this is a tangent.

Anonymous said...

I found this blog to be particularly interesting. I have never thought about what to do in a natural disaster if I happen to be teaching disabled students. This event, however, is terrible to think about! These students who are severely disabled should be looked after in all areas by their teachers and aides not just "let them right the storm out" and then come to their rescue! This is terrible advice from the school.. Teachers are there to try and protect their students as much as they possible can. And as for the aides behavior and basically totally apathetic nature, I hope they learn or are told that they are not helping their students learn by barking orders or aimlessly texting. How unprofessional.. I think their behavior should be reprimanded somehow. I hope this has been resolved somehow!
--Marie Nipper

caring person said...

I am an istructional assisstant and at one of the high schools and our class is wayyy out in the back and really no one really comes out there very ofter only if they really need to, however other than that its like we dont really exist. During the earthquake drill the teacher that I work with is an awesome teacher i should say and she instructed the aides and students what to do incase of a reall earthquake. First, you quickly get underneath your desk or thats near you and stay there until it stops shaking. No matter what happens" she was telling the class "you always stay together." "If you dont see me, or or the other teachers, you stay together and walk out the door to the football field." i was really supprized that when the drill actually happened everyone stayed together and one of the students kept saying "stay together, this is serious man" I was smiling observing how the other students reacted. The actually listen very well and i was thinking "This works." Taking to your students is really important to let them know what to do in case of an earthquake drill. however, next door to us is the county class and it was dissapointing to see that some of the aides were actually joking and one of them actually kept texting her friend and being really mean to her students. its devastating to see aides that joke around about the students and laugh in their faces"this is crule. As an instructional aide i definatelly see the importance of talking to my students about serious matter. This also betters me as a person as well as when I will have my own class in the future.