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Archive for Friday, April 20, 2007

Threats rattle schools

Third of district’s students leave class after caller mentions bombs

April 20, 2007

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Lawrence Police Department press conference

Lawrence Police Capt. Dave Cobb said that officers have recovered the cell phone used to make a bomb threat against local schools. Enlarge video

Randy Weseman

Superintendent Randy Weseman talks about the school response to the bomb threats. Enlarge video

Reaction from parents

In two interviews, Debbie Galbraith and Christine Hauschel, parents of area school children, discuss their responses to the bomb threats. Enlarge video

Bomb threats

Breaking news update about the bomb threats that have been collected throughout the morning. Enlarge video

Superintendent Randy Weseman on schools' responses

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After a tension-filled day that led parents to pull thousands of students from their classrooms because of bomb threats, Lawrence's public schools planned to resume operations today on a normal schedule.

But what educators, administrators and the public learned from Thursday's events was that there are gaps in getting information to parents.

Superintendent Randy Weseman said he planned to assess what changes could be made in getting information to parents more quickly, possibly through telephone calls or e-mails.

"There are some things we can do that will probably make us better," Weseman said, explaining that he will make a report Monday to Lawrence's school board.

Weseman said he was notified about the bomb threats about 7:40 a.m., when some classes already had started and many students were on their way to class.

"By the time we effectively had a chance to deal with it, most schools were started," he said. "The notion that 'Why didn't I get called before school started?' - that was impossible."

He said it was never recommended by police to notify parents because "it probably wasn't a credible threat. : But we still responded in what I saw was an appropriate way."

Police arrested Michael E. Parker, 47, of 1202 N.Y., for three counts of making an aggravated criminal threat. The arrest followed an interrogation and a search warrant at his home, where they found a wireless phone believed to have been used to make the calls threatening a bombing. No evidence of explosives was found.

Schools locked down

Weseman announced to the Journal-World, 6News and local radio stations about 8:30 a.m. that there had been a report of a bomb threat and that schools were in a "semi-lockdown" situation where entrances and exits were being monitored.

He provided information throughout the day to the media.

Many parents, hearing the news, rushed to schools to pick up their children.

By the end of the school day, about 3,000 students - about a third of the district's enrollment - left school early with their parents, Weseman said. An official count still was being tabulated by the district and will be given to police, he said.

However, some parents never received word about the threat. Among them was Mary Taylor, a reading specialist at Linn Elementary School in Topeka.

Taylor, who has a fourth-grade son at Pinckney School, was critical of the district for not personally notifying her by phone or e-mail. She said she would be happy to help start a calling tree for parents.

"This is ridiculous. We need a better way to handle bomb threats," Taylor said. "There's no excuse for not letting all the parents know."

Another parent, Nicole Garrett, said she wanted to pick up her son at Central Junior High School, but when she arrived she met with problems. She said it took 35 minutes to finally get her ninth-grader out of class.

She said she became so frustrated with waiting for the school to release him that she sent a text message to her son and told him to leave his classroom. When a teacher saw him start to leave, her son "was sent to time-out in another room," Garrett said.

A parent at Southwest Junior High School said students there were told they could not use their cell phones in class but could go to the restroom to phone someone to come pick them up.

'Emotional state'

Weseman said he had received 19 e-mails from parents during the day, with about half of them positive and the other half asking why they weren't notified.

"People are probably at a heightened emotional state," Weseman said. "People need information right away. They want to know what's going on. They want to know if their kids are safe. They want to know what we're doing. They want to know why we're doing it."

He said his ability to get that information out immediately to the parents of 10,000 students and 2,000 employees is difficult.

"It's impossible. The communication piece is always a struggle," he said. He said the district will try to improve communication through a multimedia approach, using e-mail subscriber lists.

"I think you have to have a listserv to put information out on. And you update it so that people who have computers get it," Weseman said.

The district now relies on media outlets, he said.

"We may look at a system that leaves notifications on people's home phones," he said. "They're expensive, but I think they probably have great merit. Unfortunately, most people are not home. So what is the other outlet? That's what needs to be examined."

Comments

oldgoof 7 years, 6 months ago

The risks of being injured in a traffic accident on the way to or from school greatly exceed the risk of being involved in any school violence incident. .

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oldgoof 7 years, 6 months ago

"Taylor, who has a fourth-grade son at Pinckney School, was critical of the district for not personally notifying her by phone or e-mail." . good grief......ok so lets have the district develop a listserve, which still will not be fast enough for some, and inaccessible for others. . take me back to those days of those funny smelling blue memeographs....

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busymom 7 years, 6 months ago

These bomb threats are happening nation-wide. Just how many sick people are there in this world? I understand that bomb threats are common this time of year; however in light of the timing it is sickening. Grow up people, whether your in school trying to skip a test or older and not in school and doing it for kicks. Just grow up.

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johnadavies 7 years, 6 months ago

I think that realistic risk assessments must be made and acted upon according to prearranged plan of action. I'm a parent who has been concerned about safety in the schools since the 1980's. Expecting a personal call be made to the parents of every school child when the whole school district is effected by some nebulous situation is kind of way out there. At best this is an emergency like a flood or a tornado where notification can be expected in the form of a media announcement or a siren. Life is a game of chance and Superintendent Weseman and the police have done the things they should do!

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perkins 7 years, 6 months ago

This article was disturbing. I believe the superintendent made the right call. However, I am dismayed that he was mealy-mouthed justifying it.

His the-police-didn't-tell-me-to-notify-parents explanation hardly inspires confidence. And the whining over his "struggle" with "the communication piece." I suppose next year we can see further diversion of our tax dollars from the classroom toward administration.

Also disturbing was the Henny Penny parent texting her child to get up and leave class now. Any relation to the evacuate the courthouse administrator?

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Angela Heili 7 years, 6 months ago

They could have posted a sign on the doors. I was in the school yesterday dropping of my girls and no one said a thing to me, I was even at the office, and passed by several staff members.

Then when I went to pick my children up, two staff were standing at the door on the inside, and I knocked. They ignored me. I was knocking right in front of them. They just kept right on talking to each other, like I wasn't even there. I had to pound on the door to get them to open it. I wasn't impressed.

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Aileen Dingus 7 years, 6 months ago

I've stayed out of this brouhaha so far, but I'm stunned at the parent who told her child to leave class. Let's say it WAS a real bomb situation and the child left class without permission. When the bomb went off, how would that child be accounted for by the school? Would the parents accept "Oh, Johnny just left class, I didn't know where he was going..." from the teacher? Even if Johnny had been told to leave by parents, the school still has responsibility.

I understand being afraid for your children. I understand wanting to get them out of a scary situation. However- there are times when a parent just needs to trust that other people are also looking out for the children. By going over the school's head in this case, that parent undermined the school's authority and that can cause problems NEXT time something like this happens.

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BJ 7 years, 6 months ago

In today's printed version of the LJW: "city employees and David Corliss left City Hall." Isn't the captain supposed to stay with the ship?

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Sigmund 7 years, 6 months ago

"Let's say it WAS a real bomb situation and the child left class without permission. When the bomb went off, how would that child be accounted for by the school?"

Ummmm as "alive and uninjured" I would suspect.

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Sigmund 7 years, 6 months ago

We are living in a new world. One of both heightened threats and where most parents have access to devices that allow near instant communications. Text and text-to-voice technology is widely available, cheap, and trivial to implement. With all the smart people working for the district and all the money we give them, I am astonished that even these basic services to notify parents of threats have not been implemented. At the end of the day it is the parents who have the ultimate moral and legal responsible for their children's safety and their decision, not school bureaucrats.

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altarego 7 years, 6 months ago

Sigmund:

Whats the point of having beureaucrats if you can't trust them with your childs life?

I don't get it.

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monkfellow 7 years, 6 months ago

There are some very rational points here,very important:

The danger of a parent, in a heightened emotional state after getting the school care, being involved in a serious car crash is credible.So is the danger of some sort of willy-nilly release of kids(or they leave with Mom or Dad on their own without telling anyone) so that there's no adequate headcount when the "danger" has passed.

It's also pretty telling that we're returning to the "don't trust the authorities" mentality. You have a problem at the school-tell me NOW, not when you've checked the problem.

Then there's the matter of the "21st century droolers".These folks used to be kept on a short leash by their relatives, but since the family breakdown is immense and these "droolers" have "rights" that keep them from being put away for society's safety, well, here we are...

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KUGreenMachine 7 years, 6 months ago

i think they should have personally escorted each kid from the school back to their homes!! now thats a reasonable idea! congrats to all parents giving your kid another vacation day!

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redfred 7 years, 6 months ago

Why do students have cell phones in the class rooms. Didn't that used to be against school policy?

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jhawk0097 7 years, 6 months ago

I think those of you who pulled your kids out of school are certifiably nuts. You put your kids at greater risk on the drive home.

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whatintheworld 7 years, 6 months ago

Just thinking about the phone system at the school. The school uses an automated calling system when your child needs to put money on their lunch card. Doesn't seem that it would be too hard to up date it to doing something similar to what Tongie and Eudora use. It may miss some at home, but most have cell phones.

I realize the school was taken by surprise by this threat, but now is the time to go back and come up with a plan. I guess I just took for granted that since 9/11 and Columbine that schools all over the United States would have addressed this issue of communication with the parents.

In most ways the schools did do a great job of implementing the semi lockdown procedures. For that I think we should all be thankful that the teachers and staff took care of our children and obviously were well prepared for this procedure. On the other hand I feel really sorry for the children that stayed at school. They were locked in their classrooms all day and couldn't go outside for recess. Not to mention the stress at wondering what in the hay was going on. So, I am just questioning what kind of purpose did it serve to leave the kids in school? From what I have heard there really was no lesson plan being followed and maybe this one time it would have been best just to dismiss the children.

To the Teachers and all the Employees that stayed at the schools with the children.......THANK YOU!!! Your day had to have been one hard haul.

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Jeanne Cunningham 7 years, 6 months ago

Maybe there could be consideration of an emergency notification drill - you know "try it BEFORE you buy it"? and/or some sort of weekly/monthly/non-emergency event driven notification to see IF the system would most likely work in the event of an actual emergency????

You know - drive the truck around the block a couple of times a day to increase the odds that it will move when there's a real fire?

You know get out the mower and check the oil/gas, etc. so you can be the first on your block to cut the grass?

You know - start tanning at the salon so you're ready to be out in public?

Like all that REALLY important stuff...

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mom_of_three 7 years, 6 months ago

Usually cell phones are not allowed in classes, but yesterday, they were allowed so students could contact their parents and vice versa. I think the teachers realized that some students were a little upset and disturbed by the events of yesterday, and it sometimes helped to talk to a parent.
I spoke to one of my kids via email, and then one of them called by phone.
I didn't pick up my kids, but if they had asked, I would have.

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prpltoes 7 years, 6 months ago

Both the Eudora School District and the Tonganoxie School District have a service that sends automated calls to phone numbers designated by parents. It is very effective. The Eudora Schools were also locked down and I received the information via my cell phone by 9:30. I also received a call in the afternoon telling me the situation had been dealt and everything was fine. They use the system for school closings as well. It is new this year, but it works very well.

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Tammy Yergey 7 years, 6 months ago

My 7th grader called to be picked up, but she only wanted to come home because many of her friends left. When I asked if she was afraid, she said no. She stayed at school.

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Kristen Murphy 7 years, 6 months ago

Eudora has an automatic message sent out. For some reason our office in Lenexa received it. The first call was in the morning telling us about the situation and that the school was in "semi-lockdown". and then around 2 pm we received another one saying that everything is safe and the school is no longer in "semi-lockdown".

Honestly - the school is in a no win situation when crap like this happens. I understand parents become worried, but cut the schools some slack. They are trying their best to protect the kids and when some parents are flying off the handle it really isn't helping the situation.

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Sigmund 7 years, 6 months ago

We can play the what-if game forever. What-it a parent gets in an accident, what-if a school administrator makes a bad judgment., what-if Dazie can't take attendance of the dead and injured after a bomb explodes because some kids were safely out of the building?

I am no fan of school district bureaucrats, but honestly they are put in an untenable position, any decision they make will be second guessed and criticized by parents, often unfairly. School administrators believe that they know what is best for kids because they have a degree and work at the school, parents believe they get to make those decisions because the law gives them that right along with a legal duty to protect and care for their kids.

Lets assume that bureaucrats and parents as groups are equally qualified and equally flawed, how are we to break this stalemate?

I think the school administration, at a minimum, has a duty to notify parents of any situation where they have notified the police. In that notification they can inform parents of what, if any, actions they are taking and why. It is then up to parents to agree with that decision, seek more information, or override that decision with respect to their child.

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altarego 7 years, 6 months ago

Sigmund:

Here's an alternate thought. What if beureaucrat is not a dirty word? Each parent with a child in school has tacitly agreed to the qualifications of these beureacrats. I don't see it as a stalemate. I believe parents should accept the authority of the school board and PD when it comes to an emergency such as this. Each parent making decisions about having their child leave class or packing the parking lot picking them up is not just enforcing the rights of their particular family, they are affecting the rights (to safety) of every child in that school. Until I have voted for each and every parent at that school, and - better or worse - authorized them to decide what is best in an emergency, I'd just soon they stay home or at work, and get a radio. Like I did.

The system needs some cleanup, but I give the school board, the administration at my kids school, and the Lawrence PD an A+ for their efforts yesterday.

Thank you all.

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oldgoof 7 years, 6 months ago

Sigmund, just skip the telephone and internet. .. Lets just blow our civil defense sirens with a new signal...you know - one long and two shorts means get to the school--everything has gone to he**

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Sigmund 7 years, 6 months ago

Bureaucrats are generally members of a bureaucracy, a system of administration marked by officialism, red tape, and proliferation. Parents are those charged by the society with the care of their children. Different functions with different purposes which are not necessarily in harmony with each other.

Your willingness to relinquish (or entrust if you like) the responsibility for the safety of your children to school administration, and trust generally in bureaucracies and Phd's, seems less common these days than in days gone by, and I don't criticize your choice. Why not let other parents and families make their own decisions? Different children and parents may be differently situated than you. Some, like you, will simply flip on a radio at work. The school system should be flexible enough to allow others who know their circumstances better than you make their own choices as well.

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whatintheworld 7 years, 6 months ago

Altarego

I am MY childs advocate. I think that your way of thinking might work well for YOU.

Considering the fact that the children at my son's school were LOCKED in their rooms. My husband going to the front desk and CALMLY asking to have him sent out HARDLY endangered yours or any other child in that school. I am in a great position to judge how the parking lot looks because I can see it out my back window. There was not mass chaos. There were simply concerned parents. "Enforcing" my rights.....ummmm YES this is AMERICA and last I checked I don't need to be voted into office to "EXERCISE" my rights as a parent.

Best of Luck on taking care of you and yours. I hope that all of the people you put your trust in never let you down, however just because someone is voted into, hired to fill a position etc. does not insure that they will always do the right thing. A simple look back at many leaders, professionals, teachers, and so on have been far less than perfect. I also think that you will find a fair amount of teachers that would have done the exact same as many of us parents chose to do.

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Sigmund 7 years, 6 months ago

What is the need some feel in Lawrence to force everyone, everywhere, to make the exactly same decision they have made? I really just do not understand why in Lawrence (of all places), some people in this supposed educated and "open-minded" community insist upon the strictest conformity?

"All the Lawrence lemmings, please line up single file for your marching orders. Hey, you in the back, no talking or thinking for yourself! If you aren't sitting quietly in your seat when the bomb goes off, how can we account for the dead and injured? I've got forms to fill out, you know"

You treat everyone here as if they are still in second grade. Just how good were the PhD's in Educational Administration at Virginia Tech decisions about the threat they faced? I started out this conversation with acknowledging the hard position school administrators are put in. They will be criticized, often unfairly, no matter what they decide. All I am suggesting is for the school to notify parents when they notify police of what is known and what the administrations recommended course of action is, but let the ultimate decision be the parents, the one's that have the ultimate responsibility.

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whatintheworld 7 years, 6 months ago

I agree completely with you Sigmund.

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Sigmund 7 years, 6 months ago

As no child was harmed on the drive home and as the drive home happened anyway at the end of school for the remaining students, how can anyone confidently say students were put at "greater risk?"

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jhawk0097 7 years, 6 months ago

Stud on you Sigmund. Checkmate!

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