Colonial's first safety summit was held Tuesday.

Colonial safety summit stresses importance of communication

Jarek RutzHeadlines, Education

Colonial's first safety summit was held Tuesday.

Colonial’s first safety summit was held Tuesday.

Parents have religiously attended school board meetings this year to share concerns about school safety, with incidents like guns in buildings, fights between children and vaping in bathrooms atop their list of worries.

The Colonial School District on Tuesday night hosted a safety summit, featuring law enforcement, a constable and the district superintendent. Watch the full video of the summit here.

Superintendent Jeff Menzer said the district “hopes this is going to be the first of many interactions with our community around Colonials’ efforts to keep our staff, students and our building safe and secure during and after school and during all of our events.”

The panel included John Barr, Colonial’s safety and security specialist; Carl Bond, Colonial’s lead constable; Sgt. Tracey Duffy, public information officer for the New Castle County Police; Sgt. India Sturgis, director of public information for the Delaware State Police; and Frank Burton, former Colonial parent and FBI special agent.

A common theme during the summit was the importance of communication in the event of a crisis. 

A short news clip was played that showed parents storming into a school in San Antonio, Texas while a chaotic frenzy broke out in the hallways after reports of a school shooter, when there was actually no threat at all. 

We want you to see how important communication is,” Sturgis said, who added that police messaging  communicated with the school public information officers so that it can be conveyed to the public in a timely manner but still be accurate.

In today’s social media-driven world, rumors and news will circulate around the community that often aren’t true, which can hinder the police’s ability to conduct a proper investigation. 

We’re obtaining information from the investigators on scene as quickly as we can, so sometimes if you’re following us on social media accounts and you’re not getting information as quickly as you want to, we’re not trying to hide the information from you,” Sturgis said. 

Rather, the delay in publishing information on an incident is because law enforcement and the school district are actively seeking accurate information.

We never want to put out information that’s not factual,” Sturgis said. 

In January, a 16-year old male was charged in connection to a fired gun in Colonial’s William Penn High School, and many parents were upset about how long it took for Colonial to provide information to families.

RELATED: 16-year-old male charged for shooting at William Penn High

Within 10 minutes of us thinking something happened, we told the public we were locking down the school and investigating a situation,” Menzer said. “It didn’t become apparent that there was a weapon discharge until at least a solid hour or hour and 15 minutes following that statement.”

To impulsively send out information just to say something to families would be irresponsible, Menzer said, because then it feeds into the frenzy.

Sometimes, information can’t be put out because it would interfere with an investigation, Sturgis said. 

We could be tracking that suspect in a way that we can’t let you know how because then if we put that information out, they might be following us on Twitter and could see that information too,” she said.

When families are not seeing information, Sturgis said, it’s not that officials are not doing anything, they just can’t give every single detail of our investigation, which is why patience is so crucial in an emergency.

There have been complaints about not identifying a suspect, but the panel explained how names, photos and other identifying details of a juvenile cannot be released due to state law. 

We’re not Fox News. We’re not MSNBC. We’re not CNN,” Bond said, “so we’re not trying to rush just to say something, which a lot of them do irresponsibly.”

Colonial’s safety measures

Barr presented several safety features the district has implemented over the past few years. 

GoGuardian is a software that is in each Chromebook throughout the district. 

It’s got algorithms set in place so if a student looks up how to kill, how to commit any kind of harm to themselves or anything like that it will flag it,” he said, “and it will notify some of the key players within the district so we can get on our systems, we can make notifications to the admins or counselors and try to get ahead of it and intervene.”

Many schools now have secure vestibules that require every person to buzz into the building. 

One parent brought up the fact that during the recent shooting in Tennessee that left six dead, including three children, the shooter simply shot through the glass vestibule. 

Barr said the district is looking to invest in a bullet-proof film that goes over the glass entryways, rather than outright replacing the structures, which is much more expensive. 

Bond pointed out that the overwhelming majority of school shooters enter through an unlocked side door or another alternative entrance that isn’t properly secured. 

The district also has HALO Smart Sensors in its bathrooms. These sensors detect vaping, THC, smoke and more. 

If it detects something, it sends alerts to school officials and constables, who can then check in on the bathroom. 

All of Colonial’s staff goes through ALICE training, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.

Menzer said it’s important that all responders in the district and law enforcement are speaking the same language and there’s a uniform action plan. 

We hope that we never have to go through that in real life,” Barr said, “but we are prepared.”

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