School security was a hot topic at soccer practice Tuesday night.
Parents of students at Langston Hughes School said they were pleased with how the district communicated with them during the report of a residential burglary near the school.
"I was just really impressed with the promptness and everything they were doing to make sure the parents were OK and didn't flock to the schools to get their kids," said Kirsten Krug, who has a first-grader at the school.
A false residential burglary alarm in the 800 block of Andrew John Drive triggered the use of a phone messaging service to inform parents that doors to Langston Hughes were locked as a safety precaution while police searched for suspects.
It was the first time in a situation involving police that Lawrence public schools used the service, which it purchased in April. The district purchased SchoolMessenger following the shootings at Virginia Tech.
Although the incident was a false alarm, it gave them an opportunity to test the program in circumstances that could have caused some concern for parents.
"It's a good tool for us to be able to inform parents that everything is OK," said Julie Boyle, the district's communications director. "I think it's just good to get the information out, and that we're taking extra precautions to make sure your children are safe."
The message, recorded by Langston Hughes Principal Lisa Thompson, told parents that police were searching the area for possible burglary suspects, and that the school's front doors and classroom doors were locked as a safety measure. It noted that all the children were safe.
When Lawrence police determined the burglary to be a false alarm, Thompson recorded another message telling parents the situation was back to normal.
Thompson said that in the past she would have composed a letter telling parents what had happened. But with the message service available, she thought that would be a better, more direct option.
"I wanted them to hear it from me," she said. "Hopefully, in a calm voice, letting them know their kids are safe, that we're taking some extra safety measures.
"Let's just use the technology to be better communicators."
The first message was distributed at 12:30 p.m., about an hour after the burglary had been reported. The second message came at 2:30 p.m. Boyle said Thompson had to first assess the situation, then coordinate the call, hence the delay between locking the doors and notifying parents.
That was OK by Krug.
"I felt like I got great communication," she said. "(Thompson) immediately called us and updated us. To me it was great, it was very efficient, very effective."
The district can use the system to convey urgent messages, but also information, ranging from parent-teacher meeting announcements to notifying parents about Superintendent Randy Weseman's retirement.