Confusion Over Emergency Notification

Update, Monday night:  This from Director Smith-Blum:

 I am forwarding Dr. Enfield's letter addressing the safety concerns with our schools and our coordination with the Seattle Police – both last week and how we will address going forward. I will say that our operations staff indicated to me they felt at least in West Seattle – things were not handled through a central voice and that led to confusion.

 I appreciate all your questions and ideas and would ask that if you feel Dr. Enfield's letter does not address your specific concerns or would like more detail, that you send those inquiries to her directly, as it is not the Board's purview to direct staff to change their protocals. 

That said, we will be addressing several policies in our areas of safety and student responsibilities this month. I will use your questions and concerns to hopefully create a thought process that will drive a stronger set of policies and procedures for the future. 

Best,  Kay Smith-Blum Director, District 5

I am confused.

The district sent out a statement about notifications after the shootings last week.  This is a serious issue as the killer migrated from one area/region of the district to another.  Schools in each region did different things.  And, as it turns out, some of them did things on their own because they were not able to get clear direction from the district.

I was told by the district that they did rely on the media to get information out to parents (us included).  I deliberately did NOT call the district because I didn't want to overload them and I made an assumption about what they were doing.  I assumed I would find some basic information at the website. 

They did not have anything - not a word  - on the SPS website until after 2 p.m.

 If they don't want parents calling or going to their child's school, then they need to have information available (and not just via Twitter).   I was told the message also came onto the "hosted school websites" but Roosevelt, in the thick of things, also had no message most of the day and into the afternoon.

In specific to this incident, here is what the district says:

You also asked about who makes the decisions on lockdowns/shelter in place. On Wednesday, we followed the direction of the Seattle Police Department in securing our schools. As a precautionary measure, some principals also voluntarily locked their school buildings (Lafayette and Bryant).

I had assumed all the schools involved sent out a robo-call but apparently that was not the case.  I am not a security expert but the minute the killer had left one area, I would have thought that every school in the area where he was next reported, would have sent out a robo-call.

I was also made aware that one school in West Seattle let kids out at dismissal time, as the search was on-going, and one did not.

I have to say it sounds like schools were making decisions on their own and that's never a good idea.  The decisions should come from the district and SPD.  But, in the end if there is a void of information/direction, principals must act on their own to do what is in the best interests for the safety of students and staff. 

The journalists over at the West Seattle Blog have done a fantastic job and guess what?  Scooped all the other journalists in Seattle by tracking the killer's whereabouts in West Seattle.  Their work shows a man on the move and it's frightening.  Here is the link to that information.

- he stopped at a nursery, bought a plant for a present and left it on someone's doorstep.  The nursery was the West Seattle nursery.  This was before his photo was distributed by police.
- Police apparently first spotted him at Fauntleroy and Raymond – roughly half a mile from the nursery – according to this audio clip they released.

I assumed that the schools around the area in Roosevelt - Roosevelt High, Bryant, Green Lake, Wedgwood and Eckstein - had all been told what to do by the district.  I made that same assumption for those in West Seattle (which I had a harder time tracking but I believe included West Seattle Elementary and High Point). 

Here's what the West Seattle principal, Vicki Saccim had to say to the WS Blog (and I applaud her candor):

I just want to inform you of the steps we took at West Seattle Elementary during the crisis the other day. Upon learning there was a problem from parents calling the school, I made several calls to the police department to no avail. Taking matters into my own hands and to ensure everyone’s safety, I made the decision to put the building into a Shelter in Place. This required locking all doors and keeping students in the building. A letter went home with students (Thursday) informing parents of our actions. … I would like the West Seattle community wants to know that we make safety our top priority.

I assumed all the schools involved sent out a robo-call but apparently that was not the case.  I am not a security expert but the minute the killer had left one area, I would have thought that every school in the area where he was next reported, would have sent out a robo-call.

I was also made aware that one school in West Seattle let kids out, as the search was on-going, and one did not. 

Here's the Superintendent's statement (partial):

When you entrust us with your child’s education, we know you are also trusting that they will be safe at school.

We work with the City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department on an ongoing basis to ensure our school buildings are a safe place for our students to learn and for our instructors to teach. When an incident occurs near one of our schools we are in constant contact with the police department to determine if a school building should be secured. On Wednesday, we followed the direction of the Seattle Police Department in securing our schools. As a precautionary measure, some principals also voluntarily locked their school buildings.

I am proud of our principals and school staffs for working quickly with District Safety and Security personnel as well as the Seattle Police Department to make sure schools were secured. I am also proud of our students for remaining calm. While many students were not aware of Wednesday’s events as they unfolded, I do know that for some of our students and families these last few weeks have been stressful. I encourage you and your students to talk to the staff at your school if you are concerned or if you have questions about your school’s specific safety plans.

Finally, while I hope we never face another situation involving the security of multiple schools, I want to assure families that we will communicate information as quickly and accurately as possible in times of uncertainty. We recognize that some families were unable to get information quickly on Wednesday, and I know that is frustrating. During times of crisis, we will continue to provide accurate updates to the media, and you can also find more information online at; via Twitter @seapubschools or by calling customer service at 206-252-0010.

I think this incident needs to be reviewed by district Safety and Security and I am going to ask Pegi McEvoy, head of Operations, if that will happen (or does that happen after every kind of incident to make sure procedures are followed).


mirmac1 said…
I can report that Madison Middle School also went into Shelter-in-Place.

I understand that, despite the fact community bus stops were in the midst of the "hot zone", Transportation did not put in place any special measures or alternative routes. So, if a principal opted to keep students late, there was the potential of upset parents and considerable OT.

As far as I know, all WS schools were let out on time, so the school you mention must be the one exception. And I seem to recall the announcements of on-time dismissal came from HQ.

We can all be thankful the dreadful events of that day did not extend into our schools. But this is a "teachable moment". I believe the district as a whole should provide the necessary support and information to harried principals and worried parents. I know individual schools use PD time to drill for emergencies. Perhaps that should include the communication piece; kind of like the beep test of the Emergency Broadcast System we hear on the radio. Let families know via bulletin that a drill will be coming up. Granted, this places additional burdens upon our school buildings, but it is worth the safety of students and staff.

Cecilia McCormick
Someone said…
Mirmac1 - you are assuming that Transportation was given the necessary info to make route decisions in any better of a fashion than parents. They were not. In fact, I was emailing updates to those I know in Transporation, as I work from home and had the TV stations and SPD twitter feed giving me updates.

SPS Admin did a lousy job on this from many many fronts. Plus they need to start recognizing that not everyone on the planet has access to the internet for "Tweet" updates - nor would they even have the English language skills to begin to find such info.

I heard one news anchor ask the woman from SPS communications why it wasn't on the district website as parents had been calling the station during the incident with frantic questions and she pretty much blew off the question.

This should definitely be a learning "opportunity" for the District.
Anonymous said…
Wedgwood Elementary also went into Shelter in Place. That was the principal's call and not the district's. When I heard Eckstein was in lockdown, which is less than half a mile away, it only made sense to take some action. I had a Kindergartner on a field trip to Seattle Children's theater from 11-2 and a 5th grader on a walking field trip to Thorton Creek watershed all day. I was able to follow the story in real time via the internet. I think Mr. Cronas made the right call and letters and robo calls were sent out the day of. I do worry about other events when communications would be cut off ie. earthquake. "Learning Opportunity" for sure.

mirmac1 said…
I don't disagree Someone but I know principals were concerned about these community stops, and were told there would be no changes.

I work at a location where we set up a Command Center in the event of a crisis.

Yeah, I often wonder about the $$$ we spend on Communications. Too often I see that their primary function is "messaging" for the next questionable decision. This is a vestige of MGJ that Enfield embraced (AGREE/SERVE/blather etc). They were right on top of that kerfuffle over TFA information on the internet, even trying to skewer Melissa over something that was not her doing. Wish they'd expend as much energy on the sh*t that matters.
Jet City mom said…
This district doesn't handle things any better than the Keystone Cops.
A few years ago, a burglary at the Jane Addams building was not handled in a timely fashion because responders went to Adams elementary in Ballard instead as they were directed to by the district. No lives were lost, just $$$.

Safety of children should underline every action of the district. To have safe water, staff who act appropriately, secure grounds, healthy food, proper equipment for athletic pursuits, appropriate science labs, et al., really shouldn't need to be said more than once.
It is the very least we should be able to count on for the children of this city.
hopeydoodle said…
If you dig through the comments on this page:
you will find that MANY more schools than just Lafayette, Bryant, and West Seattle Elementary went into some kind of lockdown. Even the high schools were in Shelter-in-place mode. I'm astonished by the fact that even the School District doesn't know which schools took safety measures!
Anonymous said…
I mis-spoke. No robo-call, but just a letter and e-mail were sent home at WW.

Anonymous said…
another district fail with a follow up patronizing email...

seems this should be part of the police command post process.. i listened to the scanner a bit (streams from komo's website) and heard a few calls from operator to "command post HQ" regarding lock downs (specifically lakeside was inquiring if they should lock down, the command post sending out police to search/secure community centers, and Roosevelt HS discussions). of course in an emergency things change by the minute, but it seems the prior planning by the right people at district HQ has never occurred with the right people at SPD. is there a process to follow to make the big decisions from the event command post to district, and handle the trickle down - communicate to principals, transportation, parents, etc? doubtful.

also concerned about the messaging to students. parents were all over our elementary school in the NE cluster checking on their kids, talking to teachers, and our kids got wind of what was happening by lunchtime. teachers/staff need to have better direction on what/how to communicate emergencies and reassure kids as well.

makes me also more concerned about an earthquake. i do not trust the district or my principal to make the right decisions, and it's hit/miss on the teachers' judgement we've had thus far.

Po3 said…
Does the district have a way to communicate with every building in the district at a moments notice?

If not, they should. They should also have a district-wide drill where every school goes into lockdown for 30 minutes once a year.
Anonymous said…
Ballard HS students were checking on their Roosevelt HS friends soon after the cafe shootings. More timely information needs to be provided to the entire district.

Public School Parent
Anonymous said…
I was quite confused as I kept seeing reports of an Eckstein lockdown, but heard nothing from Bryant. (There was info sent out the following day about the principal choosing a shelter-in-place, but that day, why should these two schools have followed two different protocols?).
--NE parent
Anonymous said…
Eckstein went to shelter-in-place. Roosevelt went to lockdown.

I assumed that the difference reflected their distance from the violence.

High school parent
Anonymous said…
Hey all...

I feel there is more to be said on this topic as well. I hope perhaps the board will bring it up on Wednesday? Or in some other way? Some public agencies continue to utilize robocalls in new ways - some cities have citywide (or other jurisdiction) text messaging systems - it may even transcend schools, and rise to the level of emergency planners' attention ...

Meantime, yet another angle has brought the issue of schools into this ... it turns out the "recipient" of the plant was a West Seattle woman who had been Stawicki's teacher at now-closed Summit K-12 more than two decades ago. She released a statement that SPS sent us:

Tracy @ WSB
Anonymous said…
My thoughts are along the lines of Tracy's last comment. Amidst what had to have been, for Mr. Stawicki, a dreadful final day, the last actuin (at least that we know of) that he took that was an expression of his higher, better self (other than keeping himself pulled together as he moved through West Seattle, and not injuring or killing anyone else, was what appears to have been a gesture of appreciation, or gratitude, or something, for a teacher he had years and years ago.

Something to ponder when the times we live in (budget cuts, ed reform, centralized bureaucracies that do not recognize the weight and importance of school communities, and move people around willy nilly, etc. etc.) seem incapable of recognizing or valuing the incredible, lasting contributions that a teacher can sometimes make in students' lives.

Anonymous said…
Sorry, "action," not "actuin"

Anonymous said…
At our school the students knew more than we did - we never received any admin emails about the reason for the "shelter in place" - in fact, the only notice was a letter from admin to parents shortly before school was out. The students told me a more-or-less correct version of what happened in the community a bit before the letter for home was delivered to classrooms for distribution.

I would have liked some info. to share, but have been through enough of these I don't get too worried and try to keep students focused (which means I wouldn't be checking email regularly anyhow unless I knew I could rely on updates). Just sharing that teachers at some schools knew as little, and probably even less, than parents. I didn't have time to check the news until after school... well, I could have, but...

uninformed teacher
Jet City mom said…
My daughter is no longer enrolled in SPS.
She is attending WWU, and they have a notification system that notifies parents by text anytime there is an emergency, as when some one is assaulted, or the power goes out or when as today, a young man was found dead.

SPS has everyone's information that they share with military recruiters, but they could use it for good!& it doesn't seem too much to ask to keep us apprised of the status of the safety of our children.
Anonymous said…
Shoreline School District immediately puts an emergency notice on their main webpage and on that of the school's (or schools, when needed). I found that out last week when I was headed to Shorewood HS and there was an incident in the neighborhood resulting in a lockdown.
I can't speak to the parent notification, but at least I was able to quickly find out why all the doors were locked and the campus appeared deserted.
Their procedure is here:

Most of the universities have students register for emergency texts and/or emails. I would assume SPS could do something similar for MS/HS students and parents fairly easily, particularly if they have it set up so that they essentially register themselves.
Po3 said…
My news about which schools were impacted all came from
Anonymous said…
At first I was going to comment that perhaps we are asking too much of such a diverse and large school district. However, if Shoreline can do it, we sure can.

The surprise to me was how far he got from the scene of the crime. He could easily have gone west or east rather than south which would have put him in the vicinity of the north and northwest clusters.

Perhaps all schools within a particular radius should go into at least shelter-in-place when events happen and the perpetrators whereabouts is unknown. He covered a lot of territory.

Freaked said…
My kids are at Lawton and report nothing was done. Also no words from from the admin. here, yet. Turns out the guy once hid out at Discovery Park after assaulting a person. Could of come here as well as WS. Maybe all schools in the city should take action when there is a shooter on the loose
suep. said…
I agree with those who are saying we need a district-wide notification system and safety protocol when there is a serious and unpredictable danger out there.

As I posted on another thread, last week, I called my child’s school when I heard on the radio that the gunman was at large and was told that because he was “headed north” it wasn’t deemed necessary to take any extra measures in Wallingford. We all know now that this information was wrong; the gunman headed south and west and covered a lot of ground near many schools.

The lesson from this should clearly be that when a murderous gunman is at large ANYWHERE in Seattle, the school district should issue an all-points bulletin to all schools with as many facts as it has, and the order to secure all schools and be on high alert.

Meanwhile, my heart goes out to all the families and friends of the victims. Lest we forget, for them, this was not a hypothetical situation, but a real nightmare.
Anonymous said…
I wonder what the private schools do?
There's Meridian, UCDS and others nearby and god knows how many in the rest of the city.One thing SPS should be able to do better than they is to be in close contact with police and having a good communication network with all the schools. I think all parents want a safe environment first and foremost when their children are at school. It seems Seattle schools have a good record of safety compared to other districts, but it can always be better. I hope the district takes this event as an opportunity to review its procedures and perhaps revisit safety rules in general and make sure we are using best practices.

better safe than sorry
TraceyS said…
Several of the north end schools - UPrep, ASB, Meridian, and Bush (though for a different reason) did a lockdown or shelter in place. I do not know if the independent schools always get a notification from SPD, but at the first hint of trouble, I know that Meridian's head of school will not hesitate to take action. At Meridian, they also took in kids from BF Day, who were visiting the Tilth Gardens, and sheltered them in the gym. Parents were notified by email and by phone about the incident before school let out. We have had rare occasions with incidents in the adjacent park, and the school has always handled it quickly and without hesitation, and notified parents promptly.

Yes, and then there was the guy jogging, with a gun at his side, past Bush during the crisis. Some kids at Bush saw him, reported it and the police were off on a goose-chase. He felt unsafe so he strapped on a gun and went running past a school.

There's some clear-headed thinking for you.

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