One of a parent’s worst fears- for our children to be in danger when we are not with them; one of our most desperate wishes when such a tragedy strikes- for a hero to be there to protect and help our children.
On Wednesday, January 27, in the middle of dismissal at Amy Beverland Elementary School in Lawrence, Indiana, the unthinkable happened. A school bus filled with children accelerated unexpectedly and jumped over a curb into the crowd of children and staff still waiting for transportation. Staff members directed children quickly back into the building. The principal was seen pushing children out of the way before the bus struck her and two of the children. The two students sustained serious injuries and although hospitalized, survived. Principal Susan Jordan died at the scene.
Susan Jordan’s love, dedication, and sacrifice for the students and families of Amy Beverland were well-known. She had served as principal for 22 years, so she was already a hero to them. Her brave actions in this tragic situation made her a hero to the entire community.
The school district cancelled classes in all schools the next day to honor her, with counselors ready to meet with students as needed. Amy Beverland remained closed the rest of the week to give students and staff more time to process what had happened. Flags in the city were lowered to half-staff, and words of condolence were offered by the mayors of Lawrence and Indianapolis, and the governor of Indiana. A nearby parochial school held a mass and invited students and families, and churches in the area opened for prayer. Memorials sprang up in front of the school, and a campaign to collect books to be placed in libraries throughout the district in memory of the beloved principal began. The visitation and funeral were attended by hundreds, and the service was televised locally.
The staff at the school and students did what they were trained to do. In the midst of such a tragic time, there was no chaos. Parents were frantic for news and to be reunited with their children, but the staff was calm and took care of the children until they could be with their parents again- and parents did not rush the school. The school family is grieving, yet they were ready to get back to learning on Monday- even students were heard to say “we need to get back to school.” They are ready to “keep doing what they do” while giving each other time and space to grieve.
As teachers, principals, and school staff we take care of children many hours when they are away from their parents. Some day we may be the ones there when danger strikes. May we, like Susan Jordan and the staff she led, be the heroes parents hope for to help and protect their children. May we, like the parents at Amy Beverland, know that heroes are with our children at their schools, too. May our schools again be recognized as the center of the community, and those who work with children be held to high expectations and given respect for the work they do.
I did not know Susan Jordan, but I grew up in Lawrence schools and I live in Lawrence now. I am deeply affected by this accident and touched by the way everything has been handled, putting the children first and honoring the school staff and first responders. Even the investigation is being conducted with dignity and respect, rather than finger-pointing and blame. This awful accident has shown a school and community at its best.
(On the Tuesday evening news, after I originally posted this, I heard there is now a proposal to rename the school as Susan Jordan Elementary School.)