Last Wednesday the Newport Special School District conducted an active shooting drill on both the high school and elementary campus at approximately 8:45 a.m. A phone call was sent out to parents by schoolmessenger.com followed by a text that read “Newport HS is conducting a lockdown drill this morning. Local police are assisting and will have a presence throughout this morning. This is a practice lockdown.”
The lockdown drill followed a call to the Newport Police Department reporting graffiti that was discovered in a high school restroom that was “threatening in nature”. Security from the Newport Police Department and other local and state agencies was provided throughout the day to ensure the safety of students and staff.
Friday morning, Lt. Allen Edwards of the Newport Police Department released a statement to the press announcing that an arrest of a 16 year old student was made in connection to the threat, and that it was stated to have been done as a prank. “The Newport Police Department does not feel that there is any legitimate threat to the safety of anyone at the school,” Edwards said.
The Independent sat down with Superintendent Dr. Larry Bennett, High School Principal Terri Kane, School Resource Donnie Schulz and Lt. Allen Edwards Monday to discuss the success of the drill and the concerns expressed via social media to the newspaper.
Dr. Bennett and Lt. Edwards both expressed that they were extremely pleased with the students and staff, commenting that there was immediate response, doors locked instantly on response to the announcement and the students were quiet.
“I spoke to one of the officers coming down the sidewalk that had just been in the tech science building and his comment was that as soon as the announcement was made he heard doors shutting and locking all over the building. Our staff did a good job. Obviously we look for things that we might need to improve on, but our lock-down went well,” Dr. Bennett said.
“Wednesday’s was good, given everything, I think Mrs. Kane saw one classroom she said needed attention and it was very mild. I was impressed with the overall outcome.” Lt. Edwards assessed.
The school district recently sent Lt. Edwards and Schulz to a class to learn the ALICE method for active shooting situations. When they returned, a similar drill was conducted at the elementary school campus, which Dr. Bennett had nothing but positive to say about. “Our elementary school, that place was locked down, quiet as a mouse, you couldn’t hear anything, you couldn’t see anybody. Only one that was seen or heard was us walking the halls checking. I was impressed with our staff and students.”
“Me and Allen visited with the teachers at the beginning of last year after we had done the walkthrough (at the elementary school) and we told them, ‘Listen if you want to know how to do a lockdown, go to the elementary.’ At that time we hadn’t done one here, yet, because it was as perfect as could be done for the situation. We couldn’t get in any door, we did not see any students, it just went smooth. And that’s why you do them,” Schulz added.
With a similar situation occurring at the same campus last year, which resulted in the arrest and prosecution of a juvenile, parents expressed, again through social media, their concern that the school and law enforcement aren’t communicating, seemingly expecting them to be able to predict and prevent these types of threats from occurring.
“There has never been a problem, when we’ve had an issue, that the police department wasn’t here immediately,” Bennett commented on the relationship between the district and law enforcement. “We communicate very well,” Edwards added. “We were here within minutes.”
Edwards told the Independent that policing the school campus is considered part of the law enforcement job. “There’s no written policy, it’s just part of policing,” he said. “Go to any law enforcement agency across the United States and they’re going to provide coverage at the schools.”
“But I can tell you this,” Schulz, a former Newport police officer added, “if I call them, or Dr. Bennett or Mrs. Kane calls them, they’ll be here that quick and I don’t care what’s going on. If we need them, they’re here. The Sheriff’s Office, Police Department, State Police, any of them.”
“All law enforcement makes us a priority,” Bennett smiled, making it apparent that the communication between the departments is clear.
Drills, which are not announced in advance, are very specific in nature. The teachers and administrators are instructed on what to do during the drill to ensure the safety of their students in case of an actual emergency. While last Wednesday’s drill stemmed off of an actual suspicious message that was being investigated, the school district responded under the instruction of Dr. Bennett to perform the drill exercises.
“When we do a drill, we involve the police and they walk through with us and they identify strengths and weaknesses. All of us together, we plan and we practice and we try to stay ahead of the game if that’s possible. But we don’t give out a lot of information to the public because if we did everyone would know what we do around here. If we had an emergency then all the criminals would know exactly what we do,” Bennett said.
“You don’t give out your standard operating procedures to everybody,” Edwards added. “That’s been seen in various violent situations, school shootings where they were trying to research and know what was going on. That’s the reason why it’s not given out and made public. There’s a lot of the procedures that we rehearse and do that the staff at the school is not aware of because they don’t need to be aware of what’s going to happen on that level in that situation. They know what their reaction and their response is supposed to be to various things, whether it be a fire drill, tornado drill, active shooter drill, whatever it is.”
The Superintendent was asked to respond to accusations made on the social media report that the secretaries and various administrators had been misleading and even lied about the situation that was unfolding on the campus, even naming him as having lied.
“The teachers and office staff do not speak for this school district. I do. The message that I sent out was exactly what I wanted to go out. I didn’t talk to anybody about that during this process.”
“I don’t think there was any miscommunication. You can’t stop social media with people who don’t have anything better to do than stay on Facebook. I don’t think the students were the problem,” Det. Edwards added.
“What people need to understand is that if it’s real, they’re going to know it’s real,” Bennet said. “There’s going to be such a lockdown in this place, again, without telling you everything that’s going to happen. We take every one of them serious, even when we’re practicing it’s very serious to us. If we had an active shooter, I promise you, everybody’s going to know. I’m going to follow what the police tell me to do. They deal with this, they know what to do. We’re going to react to whatever decisions are made and when we hit that button that says we’ve got a shooter on campus this place will be locked down.”
“The people that are calling to come get their kids, like on Wednesday, if this was a real active shooter situation, they wouldn’t have come and got their kids,” Schulz added. “You’re not going to get nowhere near this place, because we’re going to have everything locked down. If it’s a drill, you might be able to get in, somewhat. But if it’s the real deal, you’re not coming up here. We’re going to take care of your kids and that means not letting every Joe Blow in that door. That’s just part of it. As far as the logistics of what will happen when it goes down, that is for us to be able to deal with. If we make it public that everyone’s going to gym if there’s an active shooter, where’s that shooter going to go? That’s why we don’t give that information out because that’s part of the safety plan for everybody. Everybody up here, from the administrator, the teachers, the law enforcement, myself, all of us here, I feel very confident that while we don’t want to have to handle a situation like that, we will and we will to the best of our ability.”
Mrs. Kane reiterated the consensus that all of the school worked together for the safety of the students, adding that these types of pranks and situations, done because the student thinks “maybe we’ll get out of school for a day,” don’t work. “We’re going to take care of the kids. We’re going to protect them.”
Dr. Bennett stressed the importance of parents talking with their children about the reality of these types of situations. “Parents need to talk to their children. Talk about what’s going on in the real world. These things happen. I realize that people see these things in the media. Most of them are not advertised. Parents need to sit down and talk to their child about school and what goes on in school and that we do practice these things and if they’ll just do as we ask it will all go well.”
The Independent will continue to follow the story as determination is expected on whether or not the juvenile arrested will be charged as the previous one was. Follow us on Facebook and online at www.newportindependent.com for any developments on this case.