Over the past year, I’ve been involved in three incidents concerning Washington, D.C., schools: a carjacking, an active shooter inside a school, and a shooting next to a school. Parents criticized the schools for the lack of communication during and after the incidents. They are demanding real-time information and these demands are being echoed nationwide.
The carjacking was last month. Around 9 a.m., I was tagged on Twitter. A neighbor shared that a carjacking occurred at Watkins Elementary, a school 1.5 miles from the Capitol. At school drop-off, a man stole a car with a 5-year old in the back seat. No more details were provided, so I searched Twitter and Facebook for more information. Nothing.
Next step was to call the police. I’m a locally elected official and, wearing that hat, I requested more information. The police took my call and shared that they were currently investigating the case. Meanwhile, parents were lighting up Twitter trying to get more information.
A couple of hours later, the police released a statement stating that the stolen car with the missing child was found. An additional statement was released by the school. Parents questioned why it took several hours to share the information about the carjacking. Why didn’t the school share the information immediately?
Earlier this year, my daughter’s school went into lockdown. School leaders suspected an active shooter and closed the school. Parents weren’t immediately notified. The first indication that there was a problem came via Twitter, where students were sharing information about the incident and telling their parents that they loved them.
Again, I received phone calls. Crying parents asked me to use my elected hat and call the police. I did. The police shared that there was not an active shooter and that parents could calm down. Using precise four-letter words, I recommended that the school notify the parents directly instead of using me as a conduit for information.
The third incident occurred the day of the Parkland, Fla., mass shooting in February. Gunfire was exchanged a block away from Eastern High School. The school went into lockdown, but no one told the surrounding community. The school is located in the middle of the Hill East neighborhood, surrounded by rowhouses, so only half the community was aware of the situation and took the necessary steps to protect themselves.
The D.C. schools’ lack of communication with parents and neighbors is troubling. We have the technological ability in 2018 to immediately communicate during and after an incident. What we don’t have in Washington, D.C., are the policies and procedures to do so, and that’s why I’m encouraging parents and neighbors to put pressure on the D.C. Council and the mayor to create them.
November is Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month. It’s my recommendation that parents nationwide use this month to remind local officials that school safety falls within the definition of infrastructure security and that a resilient community is one with robust communications that provides timely information.