Following the shooting earlier this month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 26 people were killed, including 20 children, school districts in Sumner and Puyallup have been on the offensive.
Sumner School District Superintendent Craig Spencer reassured parents and community members in a letter last week.
“We have worked hard over the past few years to develop school and district emergency preparedness plans,” he wrote. “We have practiced and trained to respond with confidence.”
Both Sumner and Puyallup school districts follow the state statute that requires at least one lockdown drill per year at each school.
“There is a safety drill every month that school is in session,” said Barb Pope, director of student services for the Puyallup School District. “That is 10 months out of the year, and at least one of those is a lockdown.”
For a scenario in which an intruder might be inside a building, Puyallup schools perform a full lockdown drill that requires all exterior and interior doors to be locked, and that children remain seated, quiet and away from doors and windows.
“Many schools have black material with Velcro strips that teachers can put on doors and windows so people can’t look through,” Pope said. “In the event that someone comes into the building, there are some teachers who have talked of moving bookshelves in front of the doors, working as a double barrier.”
A modified lockdown occurs when only exterior doors are locked, and teachers are allowed to continue with their lessons and students are free to roam the halls, Pope said.
She added there are multiple times during a year when the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department or the Puyallup Police Department will notify the school district that a dangerous individual is on or around schools grounds. In that case, a modified lockdown is performed.
Pope said each school in the district has its own safety team that establishes a protocol that fits that particular building.
“Because many schools have a different look and feel, some teams have to modify, depending on the layout,” Pope said.
The Puyallup School District works with the Pierce County Department of Emergency Management and other first-responders in the area to create a plan.
“We have to fall back to what the experts say and what best practices tell us,” Pope said.
She said the tragedy at Sandy Hook will not compel the district to modify its safety plans.
“After Columbine, there was a whole lot of scrutiny by first-responders,” Pope said. “We have made all those recommended changes. I feel that our schools have those best practices already in place.”
Pope said if first responders recommend additional modifications based on an investigation of the Sandy Hook tragedy, the school district will implement them.
Meanwhile, Pope said she’s proud of the partnership that continues with first responders and the diligence of school staff members to make sure the safety plans are carried out correctly and that parents have the information they need.
Shaw Road Elementary Principal Judy Piger hosted an inaugural parent emergency night at the school last spring.
“I wanted parents to know that staff is trained with emergency procedures, that we drill using emergency procedures, and that the department of emergency management has provided staff additional training,” Piger said. “There is not a principal out there who isn’t being reflective of their emergency plan.”
During the course of the meeting Piger informed parents about the different emergencies that can happen at the school, and what parents can do in support.
Piger said the parents left feeling relieved.
“I was shocked with the quantity of disaster drills (staff) perform throughout the school year,” said Heather Spagnolo, a parent of a Shaw Road student. “While the quantity of the drills surprised me, the seriousness with which they take them greatly pleased me.”
Piger said she plans to organize another parent emergency night this spring. Additional schools in the district have held similar programs.Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.