When there’s a lockdown or another high-profile incident at a school, parents often hear tidbits of incomplete, often inaccurate information before an official word comes from the district.
A new set of protocols is aimed at addressing that and clarifying how broad and detailed the district response should be.
The Verona Area school board reviewed a set of rules Monday night that would provide different types of communication to parents depending on the severity of an incident and the risk posed to a school population.
District public information officer Kelly Kloepping told the board the rules would be a first for VASD. Since 1991, she noted, the district has had a policy in place designating the spokesperson for the district in the event of a crisis and that the policy was last revised in 2004.
In creating the new procedure rules, Kloepping said, the Policy and Personnel committee examined guidelines adopted by other districts for response procedures.
“I think it’s more sophisticated than most districts,” she said. “It clearly shares what we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. This is what districts have to cover, so it’s realistic.”
The new rules break down the types of incidents and the level of response the district would be expected to provide to parents.
In the instance of a incident that poses either no risk or minimal risk to safety, no disruptions of school activities and/or is isolated to a small group of students, the district would communicate information only to the families of children affected.
An incident that poses a moderate risk and results in disruption of activities or upends a scheduled event – such as weather-related situations or bus route changes – would prompt the district to send out emails and text message alerts to families, with the potential for the district to post information on the school’s website or social media.
A “significant event,” which the draft rules would include an intruder in the school, weapons on school grounds or chemical leaks, would prompt the district to send out emails and texts to the entire district, and depending on the incident, would also send out an automated phone call and post information on the district webpage and social media.
Board members were supportive of the existence of rules for incident response procedures but had some concerns about the balance between expediency and accuracy.
Superintendent Dean Gorrell brought up the wording of the rule, noting the “as soon as possible” verbiage. He said “soon” is often not soon enough if children have already sent parents text messages about a school incident minutes or hours earlier.
“Immediately when that happens, kids are texting parents: ‘classroom hold. Unknown.’ Then, for some, that starts the clock. ‘When are we going to hear from the district?’” he said.
Parents often reach out at that point with a “sketchy” understanding of an incident, he said.
“There could be a gap from when we actually know anything to be able to write anything other than, ‘We’re in a classroom hold,’” Gorrell added. “But for some, the clock is still ticking.”
Board member Kristina Navarro-Haffner, who has two children at the high school, said her students have the ability to get information out to parents faster than the district can, whether it’s accurate or not.
She instead suggested the rules include prose that informs parents of the reality that the district will not be able to relay information out to them as quickly students who are in the schools where incidents are happening.
She also suggested that in order to prevent incorrect or incomplete information from being circulated to parents by students, school staff should be as honest with students as possible during incidents.
“In my mind, maybe we’re trying to fix a problem as an organization that really, we’re not going to be able to fix,” she said. “The answer to it is to provide honest information to the people closest to the incident.”