By Elizabeth Gilingham
Lockdowns, fire drills, shelter in place, and other evacuations are concerns that could occur in any given public place at any given time. Knowing what to do to help keep everyone safe is important. Every school must practice these events so when a real event occurs, the reaction by the affected people is consistent with the situation at hand. Knowing that a long, lasting, lingering bell is a lockdown is helpful and that a series of annoying short blasts of an alarm over and over again is a fire drill (exit quickly) is important for parents to know in case they are on campus when trouble occurs. If a school goes into a lockdown situation, everyone on campus must follow our protocols (legally) and remain in place until the situation is resolved.
Last month, PHHS experienced a lockdown due to a bomb threat phoned in at approximately 9:30 a.m. School police were alerted and responded within minutes by sending three patrol officers to the campus. Though there was great doubt about the authenticity of the call (because other schools were getting the same calls), we followed our school procedure by directing a lockdown. Every teacher was directed to secure their rooms and follow their email for updates. School police assisted us in setting up sweep teams to make sure there was nothing suspicious around or inside the campus. In less than an hour, the campus was secured and for the remaining two hours, we waited until the district gave an all-clear call to return back to a normal schedule.
The hardest part during any emergency situation is getting our parents on board with trusting that the school will take care of their children. There is a sense of panic that sets in when we know our children’s safety is at risk and our first instinct is to come and protect. However, coming to a school during an emergency is the last thing a parent should do because the school cannot give over any student to a parent until it’s safe to do so. During a lockdown, the outside portion isn’t safe for the students and having parents arrive to sweep up their children only creates a less safe environment for everyone. You would likely be stopped by the police (hopefully) or you could be mistaken for the intruder and then who knows what could happen to you. School employees legally must watch and care for your student and they certainly would do that in an emergency situation. Please allow us to do our jobs by watching the news, following the emails and voice messages that will likely be sent, and responding appropriately when an “all clear” message is given. Every school promises to do their best to protect and serve your student with the support of first responders and our school police system.
PHHS sent out emails throughout the ordeal and let parents know immediately when the lockdown was lifted. Students returned to their normal schedule and learned a great deal about how we will respond in an emergency situation to keep them safe at school.
District Lockdown Protocol
■ Parents are asked to remain calm while school and local authorities manage the situation.
■ Parents cannot pick up their children during a lockdown nor come on campus. If it appears the lockdown will last for an extended period of time, or go beyond dismissal time, school staff will notify parents by phone or email. Students will not be allowed to leave until recommended by the appropriate authorities.
■ Parents may be required to pick children up from school or another designated safe area, once it is determined safe to do so. Parents may be required to present identification.
■ The reunification location will be given to parents over the phone if possible, and will be publicized to the media. School officials will also work with the district’s transportation department regarding bus transport.
––Elizabeth Gilingham is the principal of Patrick Henry High School. Write to her at email@example.com.