REDMOND — It’s every parent’s worst nightmare — an emergency puts your child’s school into lockdown and you and hundreds of others rush to the scene to make sure they’re OK.
That’s exactly what happened in a Houston, Texas, school cafeteria Wednesday morning where one student was stabbed to death and three others were injured.
School districts all over Washington state are reviewing security procedures after the fatal shootings of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook, Conn., and other schoolhouse tragedies. But what are parents supposed to do when they hear about an emergency at school?
“My gut instinct is to go back to school and see what’s going on — is everything OK? Is my child OK,” mother Cindy Beltran said.
“Staying home, watching, waiting for the phone call, that’s living hell,” added parent Linda Sebenius. “I mean, that’s just a parent’s worst nightmare to sit and do nothing.”
“If you don’t give us any kind of boundaries, we’re all rushing up there and storming the place,” mother Nancy Staudinger said.
Scores of Houston-area parents lined up outside Spring High School desperate for news about their kids.
“We know that parent’s first instinct is going to be to run to the school,” said Kathryn Reith, with the Lake Washington School District.
School administrators in Washington are looking at how to implement procedures to protect students without leaving parents in the dark.
“It’s the what-ifs, and we know we won’t know all the what-if’s,” Reith said. “The more we can review and think about, then at least we have more tools for the what-ifs that we’ve talked about.”
But when parents rush to school, they can do more harm than good, especially if first-responders are still trying to get to the scene.
“Those folks are there, doing a really important job to get everyone out and get everyone safe,” Reith said.
But most parents said that it would be hard to stay away from any crime scene at their child’s school.
“I don’t think you can stop parents from going to the school, especially if their children are in danger,” Staudinger said. “No matter how much you tell us not to go, we’re not going to listen.”
“As soon as they hear there’s an incident, words aren’t going into the brain because it’s all about here and that panic they’re gonna feel,” added Sebenius. “It’s not going to comprehend to them that what you’re saying matters, because the only thing that matters is, ‘Can I get my child now? Where are they now? Are they safe now? Can I help them be safe now?’
Districts are looking at alerting parents by email, text and phone calls during an emergency.
But while you may want to get your kid away as fast as possible, be patient. Schools are going to take extra care to make sure no one goes home with an unauthorized person.
“(There are) 600 kids in an elementary school, maybe 1,800 kids in a high school,” said Reith. “It’s going to take some time to make sure that each person coming to get their child really is that person and we’re releasing them to the right person and not someone we’re not supposed to be releasing to.”
Lake Washington administrators said their schools will go through lockdown drills in the next few weeks – and as part of those exercises, parents will get phone and email messages on where to go to pick up their child.