This part of the series revolves around the topic of communication. After the decision had been made to lock the exterior doors the next step was to inform everyone involved. The staff had been informed and the letter to the parents was starting to come together when I received a phone call from neighboring school district. It was the superintendent of that district. I'm always glad to hear from a fellow colleague to help discuss school related issues. William Howard Taft was once quoted in saying that the Office of the President of the United States can be the "loneliest place in the world". Although a superintendent's job isn't near the responsibility of the President it certainly has some of the same characteristics in dealing with responsibility. The weight of the world can feel overwhelming whether it be the weight of running the largest free country in the world or running of a small school district. Having someone to relate to can help out in any situation.
Since the neighboring district had also went into a lock down the superintendent wanted to make sure that we were releasing the same information to the parents of this area. It was a great idea. We worked on a plan to notify our parents. Since it was the last day before Christmas break, school release times varied. For us we were going a full day. For the neighboring district they were out a couple of hours earlier. We both agreed that we would release our information when it would make the most sense for our own people. After hanging up I continued working on the parental notification letter.
It only took a few minutes to receive a phone call from one of our parents. The parent wanted to know if we were in lock down. I filled the parent in with all of the necessary information and then asked how they found out. Facebook. I knew at that moment the news would spread like wildfire. I thanked the parent for calling and immediately called the neighboring district office to visit with the superintendent. They put me through to the assistant superintendent, who was working on their letter to parents. It turns out that both the superintendent and assistant superintendent was working on the same "'live" document in Google. The assistant superintendent e-mailed the document to me and all three of us worked on the document together. It was interesting to see three blinking cursors working at the same time on the same document. What was more interesting to see, two districts working together to get the same information to parents in this tense situation. Before I hung up with the assistant superintendent I let him know that I had already received a parent phone call. He had also received his first. We both knew it wouldn't be our last of the day.
Within minutes of hanging up I received another parent phone call. Same procedure, fill them in with the details, answer their questions, and reassure them that everything was fine. I did this for most of the next hour. As lunch time was coming to a close the parent phone calls were tapering off. I was finally able to finish the letter to parents and at the end of the school day we sent out a phone message explaining the details of the day. We also put a copy of the letter on our school website and our school Facebook.
Through this day's experience I learned that communication for a district can't get out fast enough to beat the social media. Once the information is out then a district is spending a lot of time answering questions. If this situation wasn't a "hoax" and were a real lock down with an intruder, then getting information to the parents would have been difficult. We would be focused on contacting emergency management and keeping the kids safe in the building. Information to the parents would just have to wait until the crisis was over. I do believe social media would take over in that instant and the news would spread very quickly.
What I do know is that protecting students in today's world is going to take everyone. From the community member that may report something out of the ordinary in the neighborhood, local and state authorities being more aware of potential mental health patients, legislatures funding the necessary help for these individuals and protecting our schools, school officials being more sensitive to information and making sure the building is secure, and parents and students alike reporting any unusual behavior in fellow students or community members. The list could go on and on who could join the effort to help prevent another tragedy as in Newton, Connecticut. Although it can be an enormous task don't we owe to these kids? Since it takes a village to raise kids shouldn't they also be part of protecting them?