Advocate editorial board opinion: School district's procedural policy should be updated

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Feb. 12, 2011 at 2:02 p.m.
Updated Feb. 11, 2011 at 8:12 p.m.

In any public relations situation, like the lockdown at Victoria West High School on Thursday, the best course of action is being forthcoming and straightforward with information. Such action garners trust and calms those involved.

We understand Thursday's afternoon event - almost five hours long - was an extremely difficult situation for the Victoria school district because it has to take threats more seriously than it did in the past. And student safety is at the forefront of the district's actions.

So we naturally wondered what procedure or policy was in place to guide school officials through the event. We think the communication part of that procedure needs to be reviewed.

Diane Boyett, the district's communication specialist, said every campus in the district has a crisis management plan. The plan generally calls for the school's administrator to make a statement that implements a lockdown - this would be announced two or three times.

Also, currently, Boyett said classroom doors are closed and locked during classtime. Teachers in a lockdown check the halls and usher students in the classroom and lock the doors. Shades are drawn and lights are turned out. A head count is taken, and it is determined who is in the classroom.

"Each campus has procedures for emergency response that is specific to it," Boyett said. An example might be informing parents where to pick up students.

"The key part of the whole deal is trying to maintain an element of calm," she added.

We agree, but squashing communication shouldn't be part of the district's procedure in these kinds of situations. Cutting off the media, which is there to inform the community, is not a good idea. School officials ran off an Advocate reporter who was interviewing a student, and a loudspeaker warned students to not talk to the media at the high school. Additionally, school staff encouraged teachers to keep students from using their cell phones to communicate with their parents about the prolonged lockdown.

The result from such thinking is the reverse of what officials might have intended - to quell panic. Instead, a good amount of panic occurred.

The community knows a "drill" doesn't last longer than 30 minutes. So why try to hide the obvious? The official word could have been that the school was on lockdown while an investigation was conducted into an unsubstantiated threat.

We think the school district at each campus should have a liaison - a go-between person - who could inform media and parents of the status of a situation. Having such a person in place to feed information to the media and community probably would help limit the calls the school gets in such a situation.

We encourage the school district to analyze and learn from Thursday's ordeal. Again, we understand the district's mission to keep students safe. But we think it can do better informing parents and the community.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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