News

The lockdown generation

By MARGO HORNER

The Mirror

This is the school lockdown generation.

While many older folks remember fire drill evacuations, children in post-Columbine schools deal with a new kind of threat — a crazed gunman on a murderous rampage, perhaps. Or students deal with a more common threat, such as a suspect in a local crime finding his way onto campus.

Students in Federal Way have plenty of practice with school lockdowns.

When Todd Beamer High School was locked down last week in response to a student concealing loaded guns on campus, it marked the 13th lockdown in the district so far this year.

Eleven of those lockdowns occurred as a result of police activity near campus. Two lockdowns were a result of a perceived threat within the school.

School lockdowns are not an indication that schools are unsafe, said Kelly Hudson, district safety and security manager. Rather, lockdowns indicate that schools are proactive in providing students safety, she said. Students are prepared to react quickly in a school lockdown.

There has been a spike in school lockdown incidents this year, Hudson said.

“There was a peak. I don’t know if it was overall crime rate in Federal Way or not,” Hudson said.

The city reported that in 2006, Federal Way saw a 4.43 percent increase in violent crime and a 15.78 reduction in property crimes.

Safety first

Any time Federal Way police are pursuing a suspect who may approach school property, the school is locked down. Lockdowns are announced with a bell and a message over the intercom.

“We work so closely with the police department, we’re their first call,” said district spokeswoman Diane Turner. “The police are like our partners.”

Turner noted that if there is a dangerous suspect in the neighborhood, inside a school is the safest place for a child to be.

A school can be completely locked down and students accounted for within two minutes of police notification, Hudson said.

Earlier this month, Lakota Middle School was locked down at the beginning of the school day while police searched the area for an armed suspect. Students were herded into the school, and those who were walking were quickly pulled off the sidewalks and into the school.

Although a police search indicated the suspect was not on or near school grounds, the campus remained in external lockdown for the remainder of the day.

A lockdown resulting from police activity in the area is viewed as an external threat, Hudson said. All exterior doors are locked and shades are drawn.

District officials are formalizing plans to make exterior lockdowns less of an interruption to the classroom. They are considering a policy where, after securing the building, teachers continue teaching. There are plans for indoor recesses and physical education classes.

Interior threats

A second lockdown procedure takes effect if the threat is viewed to be inside the building or campus. The gun-toting student at Todd Beamer last week posed an interior threat.

During an interior lockdown, children are herded out of hallways or restrooms and into the nearest classroom. All classroom doors are locked and shades are drawn on interior windows facing the hallways. Students are instructed to lay on the floor and stay away from windows.

“We pretty much want to isolate the bad guy and keep him separate from our staff and students,” Hudson said.

Hudson said she is changing the procedure to include leaving shades to exterior windows open so police outside can easily assess the situation inside and spot the perpetrator.

At Todd Beamer last week, the school was locked down for an hour and students were instructed to sit quietly at their desks.

Police were alerted to the guns on campus when a student text-messaged her mother, who promptly alerted the school.

“That’s what we want to happen and I’m proud of the student and the parent for sharing,” Hudson said.

Hudson said she’s not sure why the student didn’t approach the school directly. Many children are afraid of being viewed as a “snitch,” she said.

For parents

When a school in Federal Way is locked down, a parent can call the district security office for more information at (253) 945-2290. Please do not call the school, said Kelly Hudson, district safety and security manager.

“The parents can help us best by not flooding the phone lines,” Hudson said. “We need to keep the lines open because we need contact with police and security.”

District officials request that during a lockdown, parents stay at home or work where they can easily be reached.

It is not advised to come to the school. Parents will not be allowed in the school during a lockdown and they may interfere with police activity in the area.

If a lockdown continues for an extended period of time, the district will contact local television and radio stations.

Each time a school is locked down, a letter further explaining the situation is sent home to parents.

Contact Margo Horner: mhorner@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

To report weapons or a threat at school, call the district tip line at (253) 945-SAFE. The district will respect requests for anonymity.

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