Looking back and toward the future as 9/11 anniversary approaches

Most students in Louisiana had already arrived at school when the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11th, 2001 had begun. In the midst of the deadliest attack on American soil, school administrations had to quickly develop policies on how to inform the students of the news. Do we allow students to watch the coverage unfold on TV? Do we even inform them of the attacks at all? Should it be the parents’ responsibility to inform their children of the attack?

These are just a few of the questions that principals and school workers faced around St. Tammany Parish. Schools ultimately could regulate how much information would be given to the students due to the limited use of technology in the classroom. The only way for students to gain knowledge of the 9/11 attacks from outside of the school was in the form of text messaging. However, this was a time when it was more of a luxury to own a cell phone, as opposed to today’s technological savvy world where 17% of students own an iPhone, according to an April 2011 study by Piper Jaffray. The idea of pulling up CNN with a few taps of of a touchscreen device was a concept not around in the early 2000s.

Southeastern criminal justice major Sean Fallon, a sixth-grade student at Slidell Junior High at the time of the 9/11 attacks, recalled how he learned of the 9/11 attacks. “At first, we were told that something bad had happened, but they were not allowed to discuss it,” said Fallon. “Then we were told that the terrorists had blown up the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in D.C.” Fallon later said the school allowed students to watch news coverage of the events after details around the events became more clear.

A similar account happened across the city of Slidell at Northshore High School. Entering the second period of classes for the day, ninth-grade history teacher Shea Collier found out about the attacks during her break in the schedule.

“We didn’t have television in the classrooms at that point in time and the computers didn’t have internet,” said Collier. “I was in the library and they happened to have the TV showing what was going on when the first plane had gone into the first tower. Then we were able to see … the second plane hit. That’s when we knew that something was going on.”

Even at the high school level, Northshore officials were hesitant to relay information onto students before having a clearer picture of the circumstances. “We did try to keep a low key and tried not to tell the kids that much of what was going on until we knew for sure of what was going on,” said Collier. “The principal did come on and announced that … the United States had been attacked, but they didn’t know by whom yet. He tried to keep them calm and try to say everything was under control.”

While schools did have the ability to regulate the amount of information given out during the 9/11 attacks, school officials do not believe it would be possible to prevent students from accessing information on their own due to the technological advances in recent years. Principal Timothy Schneider of Fountainbleau Junior High said, “I do believe that today it would be harder to control, due to the sheer amount of instant communication and social networking.”

Collier also expressed belief that cell phones and other devices would allow students to gain news of events, regardless of a school’s policy on handling a situation.

“It would change immensely. The kids would know before we would.”

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