To Whom It May Concern:
Over the past week, we have held multiple discussions and meetings with stakeholders to review and learn from the recent school lockdowns in Garfield County School District. We understand that this experience may have been unsettling for students, staff, parents, and our communities at large. We are frustrated and disheartened for having this type of experience in our safe, remote corner of the world.
We are confident and hopeful that the feedback we received and the insight gained will help us improve our emergency response protocols and communication moving forward. Here is a detailed overview of what caused the event, why we initiated the lockdown, and our plans for improving our future practice.
Cause: Why was there a Level 1 Lockdown?
On Wednesday, March 29, at approximately 11:30 am, we received a call from the Garfield County Sheriff Department reporting that there had been phone calls made to law enforcement agencies across the state, claiming active shooter situations in various schools throughout the state. The closest direct threat to a school near us was in Sevier County. Although there were no direct or specific threats made toward any school/person/property in our District, the Sheriff Department suggested that we initiate our lowest-level of emergency protocol, out of an abundance of caution, for our schools which is called a “Level 1 Lockdown”.
What is a Level 1 Lockdown?
A Level 1 Lockdown is the most non-disruptive safety protocol used by schools. It’s also called a “Lockout” because the intent is simply to stop entry into buildings as a precaution. Exterior doors are verified as locked, students and teachers maintain normal activities with the exception of indoor recess, and we do not allow any individuals to leave or enter the building. Since the doors are locked all day at all schools across the District already, all that happens in this situation is the key card readers which allow entry are disabled, and we don’t let anyone in. That is to say, as a deviation from normal routine, the Level 1 Lockdown is simply 1) No visitors and 2) Indoor recess. Nothing more.
Resolution: Why was the Lockdown lifted?
After about fifteen minutes, the Sheriff Department notified the superintendent that police agencies across the state had determined that the phone calls had been a hoax most likely committed by the same individual. Once statewide law enforcement felt confident that the threat was indeed a hoax and unlikely, the District was directed to lift the lockdown by the Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff’s Department also committed to increase their surveillance of the school premises through the remainder of the day to ensure the safety of our students and staff.
The following has taken place since the event to determine if the response was effective, appropriate, and safe:
- A principals meeting was held to review the District emergency response protocol and how well the protocol and the staff performed during and after the event.
- The Sheriff’s Department and Superintendent met to debrief on the process and provide suggestions for improved communication and coordination.
- Concerned parents and teachers contacted school officials to communicate community-specific concerns about what worked and what didn’t from their perspective.
Conclusions & Next Steps
- The first District-wide test of the emergency response protocol worked as designed and intended, alerting the right people at the right times. All schools had fully implemented the Level 1 Lockdown within 10 minutes of the District’s notification from the Sheriff’s Department.
- The District’s initial communication to parents was inadequately detailed and utilized undefined terminology. We have received feedback from many parents that they didn’t know what a Level 1 Lockdown was, what it meant to the student experience, or how that compared to other levels of lockdown. The District sincerely apologizes for this ambiguous communication and will develop response templates so future responses are more informative.
- The emergency response protocol was designed to have the Sheriff’s Department responsible for making a decision to initiate or lift a lockdown event. This will be revised so the District is responsible for these actions moving forward, while working in very close association with the Sheriff’s Department.
- After collecting feedback from multiple stakeholders, the District began to assess the current protocols and make recommendations. These recommendations will be communicated through updated emergency response templates for each school. Schools are required to meet with local law enforcement and have a school-specific plan that takes into account their size, resources, and support. Although some of the emergency response protocols will not be shared with the public for safety reasons, schools will be instructed to share the relevant information with all stakeholders. We encourage parents to engage with their schools, if they are interested in helping form their school’s individual emergency response plan.
We hope this communication answers the many outstanding questions and concerns that resulted from the event, and increases your confidence in the safety of our school environments within Garfield County. If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly.