I live on an island, a small island. Islands are surrounded by the ocean. This may sound obvious, but it will become apparent why I have included that fact.
The school my daughter attends is just over a mile from the house. Twice a year the school has flood evacuation practice, this is just like fire evacuation practice but the children are told the danger is water, not flames. This also sounds obvious but bear with me.
So, she comes home a while ago and tells me they have had flood evacuation practice. Great, with the sea so close to the playground I get that, a good storm could cover the 300 yards between the school and the ocean quite easily.
Building on it, while it’s fresh in her mind, I asked a few questions and highlighted a few important details:
- Did she understand why it’s important not to stop and collect your belongings?
- Did she understand that just a few inches of water can knock you off your feet so it’s important to move away as quickly and calmly as possible?
- Did she understand that if the water catches up with them that she needs to run away from it even if the teachers say stay calm and walk?
- Did she understand that even adults can panic and just being with teachers is not enough to guarantee her safety?
- Did she understand that even though she can swim she must not attempt to rescue anyone if the water overcomes them?
You know the kind of things I’m talking about. Common sense stuff we need our kids to know. After getting good answers to all of the above, I asked if the school had told her what the collection policy was for parents.
No, they hadn’t. So, the following morning into school I go and I ask the question. Here is an approximate version of the conversation:
Me: Morning. Mrs. Bennett, Shorties mom. She was telling me they had a flood drill yesterday, but she didn’t know how parents are notified so they can come and collect the children.
Them: Parents are not notified.
Them: Parents are not notified.
Me: You’re joking?
Me: So the school is evacuated, which is a major incident and the parents are not notified?
Me: So do I just turn up to collect her or what?
Them: Oh, you can’t collect your child, not until the emergency is over.
Me: You think?
Them: No, that’s not allowed, when the emergency is over you will be allocated a time to collect your child.
Me: There are no tall buildings on this island are there?
Them: That’s correct.
Me: So the second floor of my house is not far short of the second floor of the high school, there’s just a couple of feet in it.
Them: I suppose.
Me: So you think I am going to let my child stay in a strange building, scared and wanting her mom when I have a second floor where she could be quite safe with me?
Them: It’s the rules.
Me: Whose rules?
Them: Government guidelines.
Me: And David Cameron is going to come here in person to ensure the rules are adhered to is he?
Them: (Giggling) Of course not.
Me: So when I turn up and demand you hand over my child who’s going to refuse me?
Them: Well, the head teacher of course, he won’t allow it.
Me: Get him out here….NOW
Them: He’s busy.
Me: I’ll wait, though the longer I wait the madder I will get.
A swift phone call later the head teacher appears.
Him: Morning Mrs. Bennett.
Me: Morning. I have just been told that in the event of a flood you will take the kids on foot to the local high school, which is just 200 yards from my house and that’s where they will stay until the emergency is over. Is this correct?
Me: So what happens when I turn up to collect her?
Him: you will not be allowed to collect her, you will be allocated a time to collect her.
Me: Who will stop me collecting her?
Him: Well, if it came down to it I suppose I would.
Me: Really? You would stop me collecting my child?
Him: By whatever means I had to employ.
Me: I really hope you’re stronger than you look. Let me explain something to you. If there is any kind of emergency that endangers my child I will be coming to get her. I will ask once politely for you to hand over my child. If you refuse I will quite simply take her and God help anyone who gets in my way.
Him: Mrs. Bennett, you are being unreasonable and if I may say so a little irrational.
Me: You have no idea at all what me being unreasonable looks like, I assure you this is not it. As for irrational, what is irrational is you thinking you are capable of stopping a parent getting to their child when that child is in danger. What’s the school policy on mobile phones?
Me: I assume you have a school policy on mobile phones?
Him: Yes, the children can have them in school but are not allowed to use them at all on school grounds.
Me: Brilliant, if you have evacuated the school she’s not on school grounds is she? I’ll buy her one today. You take the school register to the high school so you can check you have everyone I assume?
Him: of course.
Me: Great, just put her down as an unauthorized absence. Thanks for your time.
Him: I’m not quite finished Mrs. Bennett.
Him: You cannot expect the rules to change because you disagree with them, that’s unreasonable.
Me: I don’t expect them to change, and it’s good to know that the children whose parents can’t get to them are secure, but I can get to my child, I will get to my child and I will be removing my child from your care, for you to think otherwise is not just unreasonable it’s insane. This is not a negotiation of terms it’s a statement of fact.
Him: I will be forced to stop you.
Me: Good luck with that. Do all the other parents know that they are not allowed to collect their children or does the school have a policy of only tell them if they ask?
Him: That’s not your concern.
Me: Maybe not, but it will be yours by the time school kicks out today.
Him: We live on an island, it’s surrounded by water.
Me: Most islands are I think. Your point is?
Him: Water isn’t like fire you know.
Me: I worked that out a few years back.
Him: You have no right to fire up the other parents.
Me: I have no intention of firing anyone up, I’m just going to be telling them they can’t collect their kids if there’s an emergency on the island.
Him: I would prefer that you didn’t.
Me: I’ll bet you would. Have a good day.
Okay, the offshoot of this conversation is that he will have to somehow stop upwards of fifty parents collecting their kids from the high school.
There will be those reading this that think I am unwise taking her from a place that has a defined flood policy, but the fact is that if this island floods, I mean really floods then nowhere is truly safe and I would rather my child be here with me, where we have kayaks and paddleboards and life vests than holed up in a school 200 yards down the road with none of these things.
If the area the school is in were to flood getting the kids a mile up the road to the high school, on foot would be no mean feat. The school is on the narrowest part of the island, the width of the island at this point is a mere 700 yards from shore to shore. If a severe storm came in, enough to cause flooding, then getting more than 400 children from five to eleven years old out of there is going to be a major issue. There is also a pre-school nursery on the site that caters for children from birth to five years.
I have to be honest, getting my child out of the high school is not my main concern, getting her out of the flood zone is my concern; not only does her school stand on the narrowest part of the island, it is also the lowest. The island has no hills, but it dips at the waist, where the inlet comes in from the ocean and it’s this that concerns me.
Today we had an update
I am happy to report that there have been a few changes. The coast guard now monitors the markers around the school twice a day, particularly those near the inlet behind it. Based on the predicted high tides, the weather forecast and what his experience tells him the coastguard will order an evacuation of the school on even a possibility of an inundation occurring. The children will then set off towards the high school where waiting parents can collect their children in an orderly fashion. They will be marked as collected on the school role so that they know they haven’t lost anyone.
It’s not perfect but it’s far better than the previous arrangements and far less trouble than having to beat the staff to a pulp to get my child back.
I wish it were easier to homeschool over here.
Lizzie Bennett retired from her job as a senior operating department practitioner in the UK earlier this year. Her field was trauma and accident and emergency and she has served on major catastrophe teams around the UK. Lizzie publishes Underground Medic on the topic of preparedness, where this article first appeared.