PROJECT SAFE SCHOOLS: How information travels during lockdown situations

Posted at 10:01 PM, Aug 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-29 14:22:31-04

TULSA -- Every school has its own way to make sure students are safe, and to administrators across every school district, student safety is the top priority. But when someone is wandering on campus that shouldn't be there, parents can often be the last to find out.

This is often because the chain of information pauses when teachers on-site receive the latest knowledge of first responders so they can do what is necessary to keep students safe. However, when and how parents are notified is dependent on the school district, and often the school itself.

"We're evaluating situations to make sure we're doing everything in our power to make sure students are safe," Sand Springs Public Schools Superintendent Sherry Durkee said.

At Sand Springs Public Schools, any administrator has the power to call a lockdown. Administrators say the information that leads to a lockdown often comes from inside the school, whether it be from a student, teacher, or fellow administrator.

At Charles Page High School, all outside doors except for one are locked during the day. That means if someone is trying to get inside the school, they'll have to walk right past administrators. And if they're not supposed to be on campus, administrators can call for a lockdown then and there if necessary.

Durkee says site principals have access to their own school sites, so word can go out to parents via email or text message from the admin office: "as a district admin office we're sending messages out to the entire district, or they can send them to their specific sites. It's a strategy we use specific to the situation."

In the Jenks Public Schools district, information to parents is handled through a central hub off-site of the schools. Phone calls and radio transmissions go through the Education Service Center, where Communications Director Rob Loeber begins collecting information to send out as a situation is unfolding.

"As soon as I get a call on the radio and as soon as I confirm what that situation is, I'm going to start on that message immediately," Loeber said.

If a site administrator calls a lockdown at a Jenks school, campus police, Jenks Police, and Tulsa Police start gathering all the information they can. Jenks administrators want to keep parents informed so nobody is sent into a panic, but also so parents know when it's safe to come pick up their children.

Many administrators will admit it's seemingly impossible to get information out faster than a student with a cell phone contacting their parents. At Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, Principal Melissa Woolridge uses those cell phones to make sure accurate information is being circulated within the school and to parents wondering about the situation.

"I always try to give them the avenue to text their parents and say, 'hey, I'm okay,'" Woolridge said. "They may not always know what's going on yet, but I like to try to let teachers know as well so they can calm their students too."

Principal Woolridge will debrief parents at the end of the school day if there was a lockdown during the course of the day. That debrief will detail what happened and what information is available so far. 

When a lockdown is in place, administrators and Tulsa Police can watch what's unfolding on-site via a network of cameras placed around the school. Those cameras allow for real-time information to be relayed to law enforcement, so responders can properly react to any situation. All the information responders collect is later shared amongst parents in Principal Woolridge's email.

At all three districts, administrators agree the first priority is getting students to safety, and then collecting information for responders on-scene. Any delay in releasing information to parents will be for the sake of students' safety in school.

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