For about 14 minutes on April 2, some parents of Scarsdale Middle School students thought the worst after receiving text messages from their children.
The middle school went into lockdown after the alarm system was triggered accidentally. Thankfully the students were not in harm’s way, though the incident raised questions about how prepared the schools are when it comes to lockdowns, how and when information is disseminated.
The lockdown lasted 90 minutes, but, “for 14 minutes, I was in pure panic mode of what was going on,” said one mother, who immediately searched the internet and social media for news of a suspicious person in the area.
Her child told her by text the classroom door was locked and students were hiding under their desks, the teacher telling them they were safe.
“I didn’t feel safe because I didn’t know what was going on,” said the mother, who texted her other middle school student.
There was no response, which was abnormal, the mom said, because that specific child always checks the phone and responds to texts immediately, being particularly in tune with the news of school shootings across the country.
Later that day, when the mother asked why she didn’t receive a response to the text message, her child said the teacher told the students their phones had to be put away, and if the teacher saw a phone, it would be confiscated and turned over to SMS Principal Meghan Troy.
Reflecting on the events that day, the mother said she disagreed with the directive to keep phones put away. She said when she texted her other child, the child was scared and kept asking if the students would be OK.
“You try to talk about other things,” the mother said. “But [the conversations] would go back to [my child] asking if everything would be OK. The concern of the children was that they didn’t have any information.”
While some parents expressed concerns, others supported the school’s response.
“I recognize that this event caused a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety for both students, staff, faculty and administrators in the building and district,” Troy wrote in an email to parents that gave a rundown of what happened that day. “However, the silver lining is that we are able to learn valuable lessons about our safety and lockdown procedures.”
Director of Special Education and Student Services Eric Rauschenbach said lockdowns can be scary for children and the district does everything it can to train for this situation.
Dr. Elliot Cohen, the psychologist at the middle school, said the students have been made familiar with lockdown procedures and knew what to do during the lockdown through drills.
“We always want to be proactive and strong,” he said.
Rauschenbach said the school offers services and staff to help students who feel they need to talk about anxieties or concerns.
“When it’s a false alarm and people don’t know if it’s real, it can cause fear,” he said. “We’ll talk about the lockdown with any students who feel like they may need to talk about it and need the facts.”
After the lockdown, the middle school’s CORE sessions gave students an opportunity to talk about their feelings about what happened. CORE focuses on nurturing social and academic development for students in sixth to eighth grade. Students meet in small groups by grade level, and the entire teaching faculty is involved in some way.
The mother said she heard the session didn’t discuss the lockdown to the point where kids felt like they could ask questions.
“I’m not sure if it really helped,” she said. “I think parents may have had to do [more explaining].”
Cohen said he didn’t hear from a single student who had a concern.
“That’s a good sign of the bounce back and resilience of the kids,” Cohen said. “I think it impacts all of us to an extent. Children are usually more resilient than adults. Kids sometimes do have a hard time, but people experience things differently. Kids who are higher in anxiety or depression are more vulnerable.”
At the end of the day, when the mother sat down and talked to her children, they asked insightful questions that led her to believe there are gaps in the protocol. Her kids asked what they’re supposed to do if they’re in the hallway or a bathroom when the school goes into a lockdown, and what would happen if someone forced an administrator to make an announcement that everything was OK and teachers should unlock their doors.
And, she said, she took issue with the fact that it took nearly an hour for the district to send out an explanatory email: “One person should be a point person for communication.”
At the board of education meeting April 8, Superintendent Thomas Hagerman said the district held an initial debriefing, where they reviewed logistical issues, the emotional and psychological impact on students and parents, and the prioritization of responses to a real or perceived real situation.
Hagerman also apologized for the delay in relaying information to parents.
Springdale Road resident Ron Schulhof told the board he felt the emails from the superintendent were “unacceptable.”
“They were not timely, they lacked important information and details, they showed no real empathy for those involved and they certainly showed no desire to hear feedback,” Schulhof said.
Though the district encouraged parents to provide feedback, the mother who spoke to the Inquirer said she worried her concerns would fall on deaf ears. “I feel the district doesn’t want to hear from parents in that capacity,” she said.
Schulhof said the superintendent’s comments at the board meeting wouldn’t get the amount of reach they should receive since it was a sparsely attended meeting.
For Schulhof, the communication breakdown should not be taken lightly.
“We shouldn’t learn what’s going on secondhand from parents who have kids who happen to have a phone and are texting,” Schulhof said. “[The district] needs to be the source of information. Once the school was reopened, we should get a complete explanation of the event” with details and insight into what the situation is like for the students.
Whether there’s a disconnect between parents of students and the school district or not, “This is life going forward,” the mother said. “Parents have to deal with this on a daily basis. We [send off] our kids and hope and pray they get out of school and nothing happens.”