BVSD’s communication with parents needs work, but ultimately students were protected

Last week, a situation that should be unthinkable unfolded at Fairview High School. A former student lobbied for weapons and ammunition and posted threats to students on an Instagram account, according to an affidavit of arrest.

Boulder Valley School District officials said they learned of the threat around 8 a.m. last Wednesday after it was reported to the Safe2Tell hotline. As a result, the district sent additional security to campus while police began to investigate.

According to district spokesman Randy Barber, police were able to quickly locate and contact the subject before school resumed. At this stage, Barber said, there was no “direct and credible threat to the school” and the decision was made not to place the school under secure status and to initiate a lockdown.

This element of the response was successful. Putting aside for a moment the fact that our society has reached that horrible and untenable place where school threats are common and often tragically realized, in this instance BVSD and local law enforcement responded quickly and ensured the safety of the students. The importance of this result cannot be overstated. But the conversation following the incident focused on valid concerns that the district failed to communicate with parents and students in a timely manner.

As the district and police worked to locate the suspect and assess the threat to the school, news of the threatening messages spread quickly on social media. The decision not to place Fairview in secure status means that no alerts have been sent regarding the situation. And as is sadly the case in our digital age, social media has quickly filled the void of legitimate information. Many students left school or asked parents to pick them up, creating a scene police described as “a scene of chaos”.

It wasn’t until around 10:15 a.m. that the district sent its first email, more than two hours after learning of the posts. Boulder Police tweeted at 10:22 a.m. that they were in contact with the suspect, and again just before 1 p.m. to say they had arrested the suspect.

For Barber, the seriousness of this communication failure is obvious. “Nobody questions the parents’ worries that morning,” he said. “We accept the fact that we have to do better.”

But he also pointed to the difficult situation the district found itself in. Keeping parents and students informed is a priority, but the district’s main goal was to work with law enforcement to assess the threat and locate the suspect — things that can be made more difficult if too many information is published too soon. Alerting a suspect that he is under investigation before the police are ready to do so can have a variety of negative consequences. Likewise, the District has a responsibility to ensure that the information it publishes is accurate and does not contribute to misinformation or misinformation circulating online.

Balancing what parents and students need to know and helping law enforcement do their job is extremely difficult. And much of the availability threat assessment and preparation the information the state has gathered for schools does not include guidelines for communicating with parents and students. Yet just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it can’t be done right.

District Standard Response Protocol alerts (which include security and lockdown statuses) are template-based and can be easily completed and sent in five minutes. The language is simple, already translated into Spanish and does not need police or management approval.

But in this situation, since the security was not activated, there was no model. The district had to get the necessary information, write a message from scratch, get it approved by district leaders and law enforcement, translate it, and have it ready in the messaging system.

It was this time-consuming approach that Barber said needed work. What was probably necessary in this case, he said, was a simple message to let parents and students know that the district and law enforcement were aware of the incident and responded.

“Maybe we can’t talk about a situation yet, but if it’s something urgent and the parents need to know, we should prepare a notification for it,” he said. As a result, the district is creating templates for a threat investigation to be sent when the standard response protocol has not been activated, to eliminate some of the delay.

For Barber, it is a balance between two essential types of communication. The first is to be prepared to inform people of an imminent threat and ask them to move or shelter in place. The second, he said, “is talking to people as a leader. You may have rumors that have no credibility, but you need to talk about them because people are worried.

He continued, “This situation shows that you just can’t wait these days. We have to go faster. »

He is right. Today, information – whether true or false or somewhere in between – can spread across social media like wildfire. And a lack of reliable information from the district and authorities can leave a void for rumors and hearsay. So, while safety should remain the district’s top priority, a thorough review of communications protocols should be performed. Both to better inform parents and students, but also to ensure everyone’s safety. Chaos and fear are not far from tragedy.

But, while the District is not in an enviable position, we must all remember that we are members of a shared community. Our actions, both in person and on social media, may promote the spread of misinformation or misinformation online. So, as the district works to update its emergency communications efforts, we too must be careful not to add fuel to digital fires – and we must teach our children the same.

Finally, it should be noted that how the District communicates and how we share information online is important because – unfortunately, terribly, incredibly – this situation will likely happen again. Until we can prioritize common sense gun laws, our schools will remain places where students learn language arts, math and science and how to barricade a door and hide from a active shooter.

It’s not just Fairview’s problem. It’s not just BVSD’s problem. That’s Boulder’s problem. That’s Colorado’s problem. This is America’s problem. It’s our problem. Let’s continue to work together to keep our children safe, to communicate better in emergencies, and to create a future where students don’t even have to learn the meaning of the term “active shooter.”

— Gary Garrison for the Editorial Board

About Thomas Brown

Check Also

Amazon employees slam management’s lack of communication on layoffs

Amazon began laying off 10,000 company employees on Tuesday. Amazon employees have criticized the company’s …