Parents question lockdown procedure, notifications

District calls failure to use FlashAlert for Frontier incident an oversight

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

Published:

 

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TIMELINE

Evergreen Public Schools officials say they will review how the district provides information to parents in times of emergency following Wednesday's lockdown of Frontier Middle School.

Eleven-year-old Quincy Tuttle, a sixth grader, is accused of bringing a handgun, 400 rounds of ammunition and several kitchen knives to the school, resulting in a two-hour lockdown starting at about 9:20 a.m. Wednesday.

Many parents say they're upset about how the district reported the incident.

Parents say the only information they received from the district came in the form of two Facebook messages, posted at 10:37 a.m. and 11:04 a.m., and a letter sent home with students.

During previous incidents at Evergreen schools — including last December's lockdown of Evergreen High School and four nearby schools, when a gun was discovered — the district used the FlashAlert system to notify parents. The system sends email and text messages directly to subscribers.

The district said Thursday that not using the system during Wednesday's lockdown was an oversight.

"Looking back, I should have used (FlashAlert) earlier," said Kris Fay, a district spokesman.

That was a turnabout for the district. Following the incident Wednesday, Fay said the district didn't use the system because it's unpredictable and messages are sometimes delayed. Craig Walker, who oversees the Camas-based FlashAlert system, called Fay's remarks following the incident "way off base."

Emailed messages and ones sent through the system's phone app arrive almost immediately. Phone service providers sometimes delay FlashAlert's text messages because they see thousands of the same message sent to different phones and consider them spam, Walker said.

According to FlashAlert, 3,627 parents and staff members at Evergreen Public Schools are signed up to receive messages through the system.

While parents said they were pleased Frontier Middle School and the Vancouver Police Department took swift action investigating the incident, some had stern words for what they said was a lack of communication from the district.

Tara Monroe, whose two children attend the school, said she thought it was "ridiculous" the district didn't reach out to parents, instead relying on Facebook and the district's webpage.

"I don't go on the district's Facebook page," she said, "except maybe once a month."

Parent Valerie Chamberlain said she was hesitant to send her son to school Thursday. She said the district handled the situation poorly, leaving parents with more questions than answers. When she sent her child to school Thursday morning, she made sure he took his cellphone with him.

In the coming days, the district will provide more information about district policies to parents, Fay said. And in the future, he added, the district will continue to use social media during emergencies to communicate with them.

The district's top management will convene to address the school's policies on communicating with parents during emergency lockdowns, said Scott Deutsch, the district's risk manager.

For now, the district is not releasing information about Tuttle, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which protects the privacy of students.

"We'll be looking at the protocol we used here and what worked," Deutsch said. "We'll talk to the police department. And we'll review parent feedback."

As for the actual lockdown, Deutsch said he was "exceptionally proud" of how the district conducted it.