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The School Newspaper of Lawrence High School.

The Budget

The School Newspaper of Lawrence High School.

The Budget

New communication methods from district improve lockdown response

Texting updates used to keep parents, students and staff informed
An+outside+entrance+to+Lawrence+High+School+notes+that+guns+are+not+allowed+inside+the+building.
Maya Smith
An outside entrance to Lawrence High School notes that guns are not allowed inside the building.

USD 497 put new communication measures to work on Monday, Nov. 6 during a lockdown caused by a reported weapon on campus. 

A mix of emails, text messages and phone calls went to students, parents and teachers during and after the lockdown.

“The transparency was really helpful,” said counselor and mental health team member Libby Martin, who is new to LHS this year. “As someone who has kids who go to another district, where they aren’t as transparent, it’s always hard when things are gray. I felt like it was really good yesterday with the communication as well as announcements. It gave me a sense of comfort.”

The lockdown began after students told the building’s school resource officer that a firearm was on campus. The building was put on lockdown during the search. According to a Lawrence Police Department release, the student suspected of having the firearm was seen re-entering the building and denied having brought a weapon to school.

“Due to the numerous students that reported seeing a firearm, officers believed the student had ditched the firearm prior to being contacted, and began working to retrace the student’s steps to locate it while the school remained locked down,” the release said.

As officers began searching Veteran’s Park, the student told officers he had left a pellet gun there, police said. The pellet gun, found by police, didn’t have an orange tip, something that would have indicated it was not a lethal firearm.

Amid the investigation, interim principal Quentin Rials made an announcement over the intercom to inform students and staff of the situation, saying there was no need to barricade doors but that the building was in lockdown. 

“Having Dr. Rials announce the situation and that we didn’t need to barricade was nice, helped comfort me and my class,” English teacher Melissa Johnson said. “I liked that we kept getting updated. I’m glad it wasn’t as scary as it could have been.”

While LHS has previously dealt with concerns about weapons on campus, the school wasn’t able to reach out via text messages in those incidents. While some concerns remained, staff members said quick communication from administration to students and staff helped ease fears of the unknown.

“I like the text messages, phone calls and emails. They help keep everyone informed and lead to a more manageable environment in order to investigate whatever potential threat there is,” interim LHS principal Quentin Rials said. “For the most part, things went as well as could be expected, but there is always room for improvement. We take our jobs and careers and the lives of the students in this building seriously.”

While the situation was handled swiftly, the threat can still have an effect on students, especially those who have been through past threats or fears of threats in their schools. Some students recalled a lockdown at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School that turned chaotic.

“They were pretty calm about it, they didn’t go on the announcements saying, ‘Everybody is gonna die,’” senior and former Liberty Memorial Central Middle School student Oliver Strong said. “They just said lock your doors, no barricade, which was a nice change from my middle school experience.”

Even still, about 400 parents called the attendance office within the first five minutes of the lockdown, administrative assistant Tracy Urish said. Urish said there was a “noticeable change” in attendance with parents excusing their students for the rest of the school day.

“I think that the parents are just scared,” she said. “I think that the hard part was that they didn’t understand our protocol was to let in students and keep them in the lobby and keep everyone else out. My job is to let the kids in. They just heard from kids that there was someone with a gun and didn’t have the full story, because none of us had the full story at that point.”

The district stressed multiple times on Monday that mental health support and counseling was available for students and staff. Counselors said they were not overwhelmed with requests. 

“We decided as a group that we did not need a crisis response team, although that is something we’ve done in the past,” Martin said. “We didn’t see too many students after, so we didn’t feel it was too necessary. We all still made ourselves available to talk through things if anyone was feeling anxious.”

While it is legal to carry a pellet gun in Kansas, it doesn’t appear to violate the “gun-free schools act,” which mandates year-long suspensions for students who bring weapons to school. However, USD 497 policy bans bringing anything that is “used in a threatening manner” or that is a “facsimile of a weapon.” Suspension and expulsion as listed as possible punishments.

Police noted that the student didn’t say why they had brought the pellet gun to school. He was taken to the Juvenile Detention Center for processing on Monday.

“We are thankful to the students who reported this incident to school staff, as well as our relationship with USD 497 that allows situations like this to be addressed immediately by the Resource Officers in the school,” police said in their release.

Rials noted the need to continue to reflect on how Monday’s response went.

“We were doing our absolute best to keep all students and staff safe, to communicate as well as stop anyone from getting hurt,” Rials said. “I know there are people that are not happy with all of the decisions that are made in a lockdown, but we are all just trying to keep everyone safe.”

 

Owen Ackley, Finn Lotton-Barker, Maeslyn Hamlin, and Jack Tell contributed to this reporting.

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About the Contributor
Maya Smith, Red and Black Co-Editor in Chief

I am a second year editor-in-chief of the Red and Black Yearbook and have been on staff for three years. I am considered a jack of all trades - I take photos, write, design, and do lots and lots of live reporting. When I’m not working on journalism, I’m a part of IPS, Student Council, Unified Sports, Link Crew, and Hang12.

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