Sunday, April 29, 2018

Madison Middle School Security Issue: Epic SPS Communications Fail? Or School Issue?

Our friends over at the West Seattle Blog had this story on Friday:

Madison Middle School starts day sheltering in place because of threat

9:36 AM: After notes from parents, we have just gone over to Madison Middle School to get an update on why the school is in shelter-in-place. Madison principal Dr. Robert Gary had told us that parents were supposed to get robo-call and e-mail messages early this morning about a threat that had been received last night, and that police would be at the school just in case. Police apparently are no longer on campus but we’re told additional district security is in the building, and the school is in “shelter in place” mode today as a precaution. We don’t have any information about the reported threat but have a request to the district seeking more information as well asking for the text of the e-mail, and will add anything more we find out.

10:26 AM: District spokesperson Kim Schmanke tells us, “The school is sending a letter home shortly with an update … the shelter in place will be explained in the letter as a precautionary move.” She doesn’t have any details of the threat investigation; we have asked SPD for the police report.

10:46 AM: A parent has linked the message from the school in a comment below. Here it is, cut and pasted:
Dear Madison families:
I want to provide you with information about a situation that has affected our school community and assure you we are doing everything we can to create a safe environment.
Several Madison students last night reported to Madison’s administration and the district’s Safety and Security office that they heard a student threaten to do harm to people at school today. We followed district safety protocol and contacted the Seattle Police Department, who has been working with us to investigate the threat and keep our community safe.
I want to assure you we take this threat very seriously. The student who is alleged to have made the threat will remain at home until the investigation is complete. In an abundance of caution, we started the school day following shelter-in-place procedures. The administration team visited each classroom to inform students that we are safe. SPD has since advised we can release from the shelter-in-place.
We take all threats seriously and encourage students and families to report anything suspicious to Madison administration or Security.
We will update families on any information regarding your student’s safety.
Dr. Robert Gary, Jr.
 Reading thru the 160+(!) comments, many parents are livid.

Sample comments:

Thank you!  This is the second time now that parents have had crappy and LATE notification. The school also needs to review its new entry rules, doors selected pose more risk!
They can call us quickly for a tardy BUT Not THIS???  UNACCEPTABLE 

gosh I’m super glad they manage to get robo calls out for LITERALLY EVERYTHING ELSE but couldn’t manage this one time. 

I even called the SPS safety and security line this AM, they were blindsided by my call and could provide no information. 

Not to make excuses, but the office is full of parents trying to get their kids out of school.
My child was in the first period class with the student who had made the threat yesterday. That student is not at school today. Seattle Police Department has been to the home of the student that made the threat.
The school is currently in shelter in place (Not full lock down) and students are being kept in their first period classes.

(To which I would say that if there had been better communications, maybe so many parents would not have shown up to get their kids.)

My child too has been texting me completely freaked out. The lack of communication with the District is horrible! I’m livid! 

Not only did they not inform families, but a teacher was taking away students’ phones, aka the only way families were being informed???  That makes me pretty angry.  The ONLY reason my kid has a phone is so that we can be in contact in case of emergency.   

Given today’s reality of gun violence at schools I understand the concern. However a shelter-in-place is not a lockdown. Shelter-in-place means there’s no imminent threat -it’s just a precaution – and learning should continue as usual.
 if students are distracting themselves with phones then it seems like the teachers are doing their job by taking the phones , because there was no imminent threat and learning is supposed to continue. Ok I’m sure if it were an active shooter situation teachers would not confiscate phones. It sounds like the school could have done a better job of downplaying the situation and reducing student anxiety so they aren’t texting parents creating more anxiety. Or perhaps it’s a clever way to get out of learning for the day.
 I always thought that shelter in place is a silly precaution and should be eliminated because it creates confusion. Just have a lockdown or nothing.

Madison Teacher

I understand parents being scared about their children during the shelter in place on Friday. Being a parent myself I have had that similar fear when there was a threat at my daughters High School. Being a teacher at Madison during this possible threat was definitely stressful. Parents need to understand that Dr. Gary did not have the authority to make the decision to close the school. He could not make that choice. When we met as a staff there was nothing said about a failed robo call to parents. I don’t believe he made an attempt at doing a robo call. Dr. Gary was following the protocol set down by the district and the police. Dr. Gary assured us that everything was being checked out by the police and that there was extra security on campus. I knew at that point that even though this was a situation I did not want to be in or that I wanted my students to be in it was my duty to keep your children safe. I was thankful that students had reported what they had heard and that we had the extra security to keep us safe if we needed it. We all new the student was still being investigated by the police and they were not coming to school. Dr. Gary and the school district did take it seriously enough to make sure we were all safe. At the end of the day Dr. Gary called us back in for a meeting to process what happened. There was not one teacher there that complained that school should have been called off with the knowledge of a threat. We did talk about the cell phones and how important it is to allow students to be able to talk to their parents in this kind of situation. We also, talked about other ways that we could have made it even safer if it ever happened again. Maybe school should have been called off and maybe parents should have been communicated in a more timely manner. I think Dr, Gary will take these comments into consideration to make our school safer and to give the parents a chance to feel that their child is safe. It sucks that gun control and mental health services are not stronger in this country so that parents, students and teachers don’t have to be put through this kind of fear. I hope there can be a brighter future so none of us have to have this kind of fear again.

 I am glad my Madison child does not have a phone at school. I got the email that the shelter-in-place was lifted, read that there was no imminent danger, and got with my day. So did my child. The mass hysteria broke out when kids with phones began texting and parents decided to pull kids out. That’s when learning became disrupted. My child said some kids were texting to get taken home just because they could get a day off, and very few were worried or scared. I am impressed by how the staff helped everyone feel safe, especially those with expectations of no cell phone use in class. I wish it were a school wide policy. 

Clearly two issues…
1) SPS district-level safety and security handled this situation professionally and successfully.
2) The school and school staff failed to communicate to families. Instead, parents blindly and without warning sent their children into the school. The school did not arm parents with the ability to make their own safety and security decisions concerning their own children.
Communicating effectively to families is clearly NOT a priority for this school office staff and the principal. If it was a priority this thread wouldn’t include more than 100 comments, and close to 100 parents would not have yanked their children from the school today.
Let’s also be clear – today was an opportunity for the school’s principal to display leadership. Inform, calm, show empathy, assume responsibility. Instead, he chose to tow the company line: “I followed SPS procedure and policy.”
And that doesn’t qualify you as a good leader… it just means you do enough to cover your own butt.
We should all expect more. Why the hell wouldn’t we as these are our children…?

End of comments

No matter where you come down on what parents should or should not have done - which I don't think is the issue - we live in a time where very frightening and serious incidents have happened.  I cannot fault any child for being very scared or any parent for wanting real information.

The fault here is - what is supposed to happen in these situations?  What is odd here is that they knew the day before about this issue.  They could have easily told  parents about this via a robo-call the night before or first thing in the morning.  (I have heard from several parents that the district/school seems to robo-call a lot on issues that are not life-threatening.)

The student in question could have been told not to come to school (which I think may have occurred).

And whose fault is this - the school or the district's?  Has the district effectively communicated to principals what the protocol is in this kind of situation?  If so, did the school follow that protocol?

In short, why the shelter-in-place?

Honestly, I can't blame parents.  Lack of information only feeds fear.  And, the aftermath is less trust in that community.

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