WASHINGTON COUNTY, OR (KPTV) - Hundreds of concerned parents packed into a special meeting Wednesday night following a threat of violence five days prior at Stoller Middle School in Washington County.
The meeting was held by district leaders, school administrators and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office to debrief and offer a question and answer session about the threat and subsequent response.
Deputies at the meeting clarified the email threat to school officials was that of a shooting.
The threat forced the school into lockdown around noon Friday; deputies conducted room-by-room sweeps with rifles and shields, a process that lasted hours. The district then slowly released students to parents with the last children going home after 8 p.m.
At Wednesday’s meeting, parents largely criticized the district’s communication with them during the incident and release process.
“Why wasn’t there more communication to the parents?” one parent said. “There was a significant period without any kind of updates.”
The sheriff’s office admitted that communication was a problem and it would be working with the district and school to coordinate better and more timely responses.
Hundreds of parents at debriefing, question/answer session on the Stoller Middle School threat last week. Some upset about delayed communication, how long it took for reunification. WCSO says communication is something to be improved pic.twitter.com/mATMCoakBd— Kandra Kent (@KandraKPTV) December 6, 2018
Some parents were also upset by how long it took for their child to be released.
During the incident, deputies thought a shooter might be in the building. The sheriff’s office swept each classroom and area individually to clear the space of any threat. Students were patted down as they were released from classrooms to another waiting area.
Parents recalled their children hiding for hours without knowing what was going on. Parents said they were also left in the dark as they waited to pick up their kids.
“Please reach out to the parents, we have everything at stake in there–in sending our kids to school,” Manisha Bhalekar, a parent, said.
With more than 1,500 students, the process wasn’t without confusion.
District leaders admitted that, at one point, they weren’t sure where 65 students were. It turned out most were with special education programs that had been approved to be bused home but hadn’t made it on a documentation list.
“I got a call an hour-and-a half-later, saying, ‘we don’t know if your kid is with you or not,'’’ one parent said.
The district also said a group of students ended up hiding outside the building during the lockdown. A district spokeswoman said, in that case, protocol wasn’t followed. It’s unclear if any teacher or adults were with the students.
Bhalekar after the meeting told FOX 12 it appeared the response was sloppy.
“We see this kind of thing [shootings] happen across the country – why are we not better prepared?” Bhalekar said.
Other parents applauded deputies and the school for making sure students were unharmed.
“I don’t care how long it took, as long as they’re safe, that’s all that matters,” said one woman to a round of applause.
Many parents also asked the district what was going to be done in the future to improve security and prevent potential violence.
“I think, for me, it would be just nice to hear, after some amount of time, what are they actually doing,” Charles Bae, another parent, said.
“I’m hoping that parent bodies -- like the PTO -- can take a more active role in ensuring our communities and our schools stay safe,” Bhalekar added.
The school’s principal, Veronica Galvan, said immediate security changes are in the works to better monitor and control access to the building throughout the school day.
“There are some things we’re going to have to change–that is where we are, unfortunately; our parents are used to coming in and bringing lunches, coming in and all of that, and we’re going to have to tighten that up,” Galvan said.
Galvan said teachers will be reminded that students are allowed to carry their cellphones on them, although they must be off and tucked away during normal class time.
This summer, the middle school will be upgraded to automatically locking doors and visitors will have to be buzzed in by staff.
Teachers and other personnel will have keycards to access the building. Those changes have been slated for quite some time.
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