In the wake of last month’s high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, many parents are wondering what to do — or who to look to — if a potential threat is uncovered at their child’s school. Parents in Avon were recently confronted by the reality of a school lockdown.
Ever since the Sandy Hook shooting five years ago, Eleni Kavros DeGraw said she’s been nervous when her three kids leave for school. One of them is eight and goes to the Roaring Brook School in Avon. Then came February 16 -- two days after the massacre at a Florida school.
“I had recently dropped my son off at school that morning and I saw an unmarked police car in the parking lot,” Kavros DeGraw said. “And my thought, in my head, was ‘Oh, maybe they’re doing an extra drill today because of Parkland.’”
She was home when a friend told her to check her email. It informed her that Avon Public Schools were in a “soft lockdown.” Her heart sank.
“And then when you read the email, there wasn’t a lot of information, which I’m sure it was an ongoing situation,” Kavros DeGraw said. “As a parent, the first instinct is ‘Can I go pick them up?’”
After talking with her husband, DeGraw decided to wait it out. They didn’t think she’d help the situation by showing up at the school. She hoped that the lockdown would keep her son safe in the classroom.
Katrina Marin, who has two kids at Roaring Brook, said she was nearby when she heard the news, so she went to the school right away.
“I was fortunate enough to be able to pull them out,” Marin said. “I think I may have been one of the first parents to do that.”
She said she was happy she did it because she heard there was a frenzy of parents flooding the school at least a half-hour later.
The district said it made the call for precautionary reasons after a mysterious message on a sticky note was found with what they characterized as a generalized threat.
The parents received one email telling them about the soft lockdown and then one later in the day that it had been lifted.
Marin said she’s aware of what parents should do if there’s an active threat on campus or even if there’s a black bear in the area. But she just wanted a little more clarification in this case — especially with what happened earlier that week.
“If a little bit more would’ve been given, such as this is what a definition of what a ‘soft lockdown’ means and so forth so that the parents have a better understanding, it may have abated some concerns,” Marin said. “My sense of concern was heightened because of the incident that happened in Parkland a few days prior.”
The highest-ranking official at a school is usually the point-person when it comes to determining protocol or dealing with a potentially hazardous event at school. They work with police. They decide how to get information out to parents.
Dave Eustis, the headmaster at Middletown’s Xavier High School, said his school would send out an email and a robo-call to parents if there was a threat at the school.
“Any parent who has their information in our system, of which it is 99.9 percent, would get that notification,” Eustis said.
He has a crisis management team and a book for the chain of command to follow.
“First person will call it in, if they’re within a phone,” Eustis said. “If not, you’d have the walkie-talkie and say ‘Hey, someone hit 9-1-1—someone call the police.’”
The city of Middletown Police Department send officers to Xavier High if there’s an issue. He said when the school does lockdown drills, there are six to eight officers that monitor them in plain clothes.
Because many Connecticut towns like East Granby and Haddam don’t have a primary police force, the state police respond to calls to those schools in case of an emergency or threat.
Sergeant Eric Haglund, the public information officer for the Connecticut State Police, said that while much of what happens in evaluating a scene hinges on what police find, ultimately it’s up to the schools to let parents know that the kids are safe.
“Look to the school administration to kind of give you guidance as far as what their plan is,” Haglund said.
He believes there’s definitely been an uptick in activity in Connecticut since Parkland, but he said they still have to treat every threat the same, regardless of a surge.
“In the last couple of weeks here, we’ve seen an increase,” Haglund said. “We’ve had incidents in the towns of Burlington, Colchester, and East Haddam where we’ve gone for that school threat type of situation. And again, it is certainly something that we do take with utmost seriousness.”
With what happened at Sandy Hook and the fifth anniversary still fresh in her mind, Eleni Kavros DeGraw was emotional when her son finally got home on the day of the soft lockdown in Avon.
“He was getting off the bus and I was very misty because this could be any one of us,” Kavros DeGraw said.
Late last week, Avon Public Schools announced protocol changes to parents. Students and parents cannot enter or re-enter the building without photo ID, software will soon be installed to process visitor ID badges, and the local police will have a bigger presence in the schools on a daily basis.