Douglas County Schools formalizes school emergency plans
When law enforcement officials converged on the area around Sierra Middle School near Parker on Sept. 2 in response to an armed, suicidal man in the nearby neighborhood, school was just letting out for the day. School staff quickly ushered students back into the building and locked the doors while officers formed a perimeter.
The incident ended without the suspect ever reaching the school or any children being involved, but officials with the Douglas County School District saw the scary situation as an opportunity to examine its emergency procedures.
Every time we have a scenario a crisis that plays out at our school we are always looking at how we can improve our communication and how can we improve our response, district spokesman Randy Barber said. At Sierra, things did not go as smoothly as we hoped. We really worked hard to gather some feedback in terms of what happened at the school. This spring, the district and its law enforcement partners have been distributing a tool aimed specifically at one critical group of community members: parents.
The 4-page A Parent s Guide to Crisis Communication brochure is available on the district s community relations website, www.dcsdk12.org/community-relations. It lays out specific protocols schools follow when responding to various threats. The first is a lockdown, where a threat within a building prompts students and teachers to lock classroom doors, shut off lights and hide quietly; a lockout, where everyone is brought inside the school and doors are locked to protect from a threat in the surrounding community while regular classroom instruction continues; an evacuation; and, lastly, shelter orders.
The brochure also offers steps for family members during emergencies. Step no. 1: Stay home.
The natural instinct for parents or guardians is to come to the school during an emergency to protect their children, the brochure reads. However, by doing so, they may endanger themselves and their children. The district recommends parents stay informed at home, paying close attention to emails, texts or other official, verified communication and, finally, be ready to respond to specific instructions such as where to pick up their kids when a situation is resolved, possibly at an off-campus location like a church or rec center.
Rich Payne, the district s director of school safety and security, said South Parker Road was gridlocked during the emergency near Sierra. While police were able to prevent the situation from reaching the school, the traffic problem was reminiscent of two previous school emergencies in Colorado: the Platte Canyon High School hostage crisis in 2006 during which 16-year-old Emily Keyes was killed, and the Arapahoe High School shooting in 2013. Claire Davis, 17, was killed that day.
The roads were so blocked that first responders couldn t even get to the schools because so many cars were jammed in the way, Payne said of those tragedies. We re trying to educate the parents to say, please stay home, stay informed and be ready because we ll let you know where we re going to take the kids. The Platte Canyon shooting prompted an effort that has reshaped school crisis communications in Colorado and beyond. Emily Keyes parents, Ellen and John-Michael Keyes, founded The I Love U Guys Foundation named for the last text they ever received from their daughter which is dedicated to establishing shared language and standard response protocols for all students, school staff and law enforcement officials during emergencies. Douglas County s new brochure takes much of its information directly from the Colorado-based nonprofit, Payne said. The foundation s program is used by about 20,000 schools across the U.S. and Canada, including 1,400 in Colorado, John-Michael Keyes said. He applauded Douglas County Schools efforts to produce a pamphlet just for parents.
It s tremendously important, Keyes said. Meg Matsen is the chair of Rock Canyon High School s school accountability committee and has two children there. She said she is happy the crisis communication brochure in available.
I like it how concise it was. I thought it was easy to understand, she said. There is often a lot of confusion when there is an emergency situation, so I think it s extremely important for the communication to be precise and accurate and consistent.
- ^ converged on the area around Sierra Middle School near Parker on Sept. 2 in response to an armed, suicidal man in the nearby neighborhood (www.denverpost.com)
- ^ The incident ended (www.denverpost.com)
- ^ Douglas County School District (www.dcsdk12.org)
- ^ 4-page A Parent s Guide to Crisis Communication brochure (issuu.com)
- ^ www.dcsdk12.org/community-relations (www.dcsdk12.org)
- ^ Platte Canyon High School hostage crisis in 2006 (www.denverpost.com)
- ^ Arapahoe High School shooting in 2013 (www.denverpost.com)
- ^ Ellen and John-Michael Keyes, founded The I Love U Guys Foundation (iloveuguys.org)