Safety is Cape district's primary duty
It is important for the community to know that the Cape Gazette Editorial Board’s Jan. 29 editorial “Communication key in emergencies” does not accurately reflect what occurred at and between our Milton schools and the district office on the afternoon of Thursday, Jan. 24, in response to the news of a violent crime committed in the area.
These inaccuracies, and the conjecture from which they arose, could have been avoided if the writer(s) had contacted me for information prior to printing the editorial.
The editorial asserts that all three Milton schools should have been locked down because of the incident if any one of them was locked down. It also implies that two of the schools were not notified of the situation. The assertion is uninformed, and the implication is false.
The principal of H.O. Brittingham Elementary School (HOB) made the decision to place the school on low-level lockdown after verifying with the Delaware State Police the information about the incident, including its proximity to the school, that she initially received from school staff. During a low-level lockdown, all exterior doors are locked, and outside activities are suspended.
All other school operations function as normal.
It is important to note that all schools in the Cape Henlopen School District are locked whenever school is in session. Visitors must identity themselves to office staff via intercom before being buzzed into the building.
In essence, HOB was already implementing the conditions of a low-level lockdown Jan. 24 considering the fact that the school’s doors were locked, per standard protocol, and that outside activities were already suspended for the day due to the cold weather. The school principal announced the low-level lockdown to staff and students in an effort to defuse any alarm (emergency vehicles could be seen and heard as they traveled past the school) and to reassure everyone of their safety.
Prior to calling the Delaware State Police, HOB staff reported news of the incident to the district office. District office administration immediately contacted the Delaware State Police for verification and additional information before calling the administrators at our other Milton schools, Milton Elementary School (MES) and Mariner Middle School (MMS). MES and MMS administrators were apprised of the situation.
They were directed to inform key staff of the need for heightened awareness but not to implement a formal lockdown, so as to avoid undue alarm. As was the case at HOB, low-level lockdown conditions were already in place at both of these schools. Exterior doors were locked, and outdoor activities had been suspended for the day due to weather.
Shortly before dismissal time, a Milton Police Department officer arrived at HOB and directed the principal not to dismiss students from the school. The principal immediately notified the district office and then sent a phone message to HOB parents informing them that dismissal was being delayed due to an incident in the community. Approximately 25 minutes later, when the officer told her that dismissal could begin, the principal sent another phone message to parents to let them know that dismissal was taking place.
In the meantime, district office administration contacted MES and MMS to find out if law enforcement officials had come to those schools for the purpose of delaying dismissal. Since this had not occurred, MES and MMS administrators dismissed students as usual.
At no time did we receive information that the assailant was on school property or was likely to come onto school property. I feel that each of our schools handled the situation correctly to ensure the safety of students and staff, while simultaneously ensuring the integrity of the educational process.
I agree with the editorial board that communication is key in an emergency. School and district administrators communicated appropriately and effectively during the Jan. 24 incident, with the safety and welfare of students and staff as their top priority. I also agree that this recent incident, like any such incident, presents a good opportunity to review safety plans.
As we were reminded by the December tragedy in Newtown, Conn. and by this recent local event, no community is immune to violence. I want the Cape community to know that I consider school safety my primary duty as superintendent.
Cape Henlopen School District