Parents not notified about Columbia County school lockdowns

By: Lynnsey Gardner Email
By: Lynnsey Gardner Email

November 28, 2006

Four Columbia County public schools were on lockdown today with thousands of children inside, and parents say they were not told what was going on.

A felony suspect was on the loose. He was spotted near South Columbia Elementary School.

That suspect is still out there, and many questions remain.

Why were three other public schools locked down?

Why were thousands of parents not notified?

And why was the county's emergency plan not used?

As her daughter McKenzie was rushed inside South Columbia Elementary, Tiffany Reeves was left outside with no one to tell her what was going on.

"The teacher and another guy came to the car and told her to get out and run to the door," Tiffany said. "So I got upset and I called 911 to see what was wrong."

South Columbia Elementary was placed on lockdown because a felony suspect was seen running toward the school.

"There was no indication there was a threat to the school, students, or staff," said Capt. Steve Morris of the Columbia County Sheriff's Office. "It was a precautionary measure. Better to be safe than sorry."

But parents feared the worst.

"Where was the evacuation plan? Where's the plan in case something like this happens?" asked South Columbia parent Carmen Darwin.

Pam Tucker with Columbia County's Emergency Management Agency says there is an emergency plan, but...

"Really and truthfully, officially I had not been notified of anything going on," Tucker told News 12. "So my assumption is, if I'm not notified, then I'm not needed to do anything."

If she'd been notified, Tucker could have alerted parents using the reverse 911 system.

"I don't think anybody intentionally didn't want to tell anybody. I think that the situation perpetuated itself," she said.

And as the day went on the fear and confusion seemed to grow.

Four public schools were on lockdown, but the sheriff's office says they only asked one school to lock down: South Columbia.

"There is some discrepancy to how or why or what prompting took place, but suffice to say, we erred on the side of caution," said school board member Mike Sleeper. "Regardless whose call (it was), that was the safest thing to do was to go into lockdown."

And as students on the inside tried to focus on learning, it was the adults on the outside who say they learned a lesson.

"They need to give us a call or something when something like this happens," Tiffany said.

"You really are better off letting people know, if nothing else calm their fears," said Tucker.

The Columbia County Board of Education met tonight and talked about the situation. One school board member told News 12 the board is looking into how to improve communication with the sheriff's office and establish guidelines about who decides when the emergency plan is enacted.

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