Lessons From The Lockdown
An emergency school lockdown on Sept. 28 highlighted problems in the district's communication system and holes in emergency procedures that police say served as a learning opportunity for the department and the school district.
The uneventful lockdown was prompted by a call of a man with a riffle in the woods behind Nativity Church on Prospect Avenue. As a result the junior-senior high school was put into lockdown around 2:45pm, just minutes before the elementary schools were dismissed.
During the approximately 75 minute lockdown, students and teachers followed the procedures routinely practiced in drills throughout the school year. However, knowing it was not a drill, but not knowing what was going on created panic for many students who texted their parents to say they were hiding in safe locations, with no information.
Parents waiting behind the school did not know the school was in lockdown and loud speaker announcements were not audible, parents report. At approximately 3:15pm, parents parents waiting in front of the school reported police were arriving at the school. The news spread quickly on social media, but official reports and information was absent.
Meanwhile, dismissal at Godwin and Highland Schools proceeded as usual, with no apparent knowledge of the lockdown at the high school. Students were met by parents, loaded onto buses, played on the school grounds or walked to the library or home.
Parents brought their concerns about school safety in the wake of the Sandy Hook Shooting to the Dec. 20 council meeting, where Police Detective John Gibbons answered questions.
"The lockdown was a learning experience for us and the district," he explained. "As a result, we are looking at our procedures and making changes to the way we do things."
While lockdown procedures need to remain private for security reasons, Det. Gibbons gave a few details of how things will changed. For starters, he said, when one school goes into lockdown, all schools will go into lockdown. In response to parent concerns, the library may also be included in lockdowns in the future.
As for complaints regarding a lack of communication between officials and the public, Mayor Patrick "Bud" O'Hagan suggested the borough, police and school district will find a way to notify parents in a "practical way" once the initial problem has been addressed.
"Understand, if we lockdown the schools, it is for a reason," Det. Gibbons told parents. "We are living in a world with instant news, but there are going to be times when we cannot tell you about a lockdown until afterward for tactical reasons or for a lack of manpower."
Regarding reports of nonworking PA systems at the high school and other schools, Superintendent Dr. Marie Cirasella said the district is working to correct the problem.
"There are several classrooms in each building in which the PA system is not working," Dr. Cirasella told Midland Park Press. "District maintenance personnel are investigating these classrooms and making repairs to units as necessary until a new, district-wide system can be installed."
Repairs to the PA system at MPHS should be completed shortly, she added, noting the district has received quotes for repairing the PA at the high school.
In addition to changes in the lockdown procedures, police will also begin random patrol at all three district schools in the new year.
What do you think about the changes to the lockdown procedures? Leave a comment, below.