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Archive for Saturday, April 21, 2007

Lawrence schools return to normal

April 21, 2007

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Birds were chirping. Flowers were blooming.

And parents were smiling Friday morning as they dropped off their children at Deerfield School.

But lurking beneath the picture-perfect spring scene was the memory of Thursday's bomb threats - a day of high anxiety that led thousands of parents to rush to their neighborhood schools to retrieve their youngsters.

"It was a little unnerving," Sulta Kilgore said, squinting into the bright sun about 7:45 a.m. after dropping off her daughter, Rachel, a fourth-grader.

Thursday's bomb-threat tension had been heightened by the timing, which was on the heels of the shootings Monday at Virginia Tech, Kilgore said.

Lawrence police arrested Michael E. Parker, 47, of 1202 N.Y., Thursday afternoon for three counts of making an aggravated criminal threat. No evidence of explosives was found.

A total of 3,815 students were checked out of Lawrence public schools - 37 percent of the district's 10,300 students - by their parents Thursday, after local news media reported the vague bomb threats made to Douglas County schools and to City Hall.

Kilgore left her children in school. She has a seventh-grader at West Junior High School and a sophomore at Free State High School.

"Ultimately, I just figured the kids were safe. The school was going to do what they need to do," Kilgore said.

She learned about the bomb threats first through a co-worker, then tuned into local radio reports and updated news reports on the Journal-World's Web site, she said.

"My high school student called me and told me right after I had looked it up," she said.

'Everything was cool'

Another Deerfield parent, Edmee Rodriguez, also decided to leave her second-grade son, Kaelen Hasler, in school Thursday.

"I came by, just to make sure everything was cool," Rodriguez said. "I just figured if we take the kids out every single time there's some kind of threat like that, it just kind of encourages the people to do that again - make empty threats."

She gave passing marks to the school district's response.

"I thought they did what they were supposed to do," Rodriguez said. "I was pleased."

District officials had put schools into "semi-lockdown," which meant doors were monitored and parents were asked for identification if they came to retrieve their children.

Jake Dale, a Junior Achievement volunteer at Deerfield, also gave school leaders a good grade on their response.

"I was here yesterday morning. And as far as I was concerned, I was told early on during the lockdown procedures. I felt safe. I had no concerns," Dale said. "I think they went in an efficient manner to let everybody know what was going on and took the threat as seriously as was needed."

Tracy Dethloff, who dropped off a kindergartner and a third-grader Friday morning, said he was at the school Thursday as part of the school's WatchD.O.G.S. program, which brings fathers and other male guardians into classrooms regularly.

"I did a half day. I didn't know (about the bomb threats) until I got here about 11:30, but I thought the response was all right," Dethloff said.

He said he kept his children in school.

"I thought it was a great day to be a WatchD.O.G.," he said.

Some concerns

Not everyone was pleased with the way the district handled the threats.

Over at Hillcrest School, Liselott Gohansson, who is from Sweden, said she went to the school Thursday to retrieve her two children, who are in second and sixth grades.

"It was very strange," Gohansson said. "I don't understand why they don't close the school and why they have the kids in the school when they know what could happen."

Gohansson said it would have been better for administrators to have children go the building, rather than stay inside.

Michele Rogers, who also retrieved her children from Hillcrest and two nephews from Deerfield on Thursday, said Friday she was pleased with the district's response.

"I know some people are complaining about how they got the news," Rogers said. "I thought Lawrence handled it pretty well. I got the news very quickly."

She said she learned about it first at a convenience store, then made some phone calls and decided to pull her children out of school.

"Nobody judged anybody, and I thought that was really nice," she said. "The schools were just wonderful about it."

She said she experienced no problems signing in to get her own children and her nephews out of school.

"I figured it was probably a hoax," Rogers said. "But at the same time, they are my babies and I wasn't going to take a chance."

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