As the 2015-2016 school year begins this week in Pasco County Schools, the school district and Pasco County Sheriff’s Office have formed a new partnership to give parents timely, accurate information when threatening situations occur on or near a school campus.
The partnership aims to give parents a place to turn when they’re hearing reports about potential dangers and they want to find out the facts.
“Safety of our students is our top priority,” said Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning, at a news conference last week to announce the partnership.
Efforts by law enforcement and school personnel can be undermined when inaccurate information begins circulating in social media, Browning said.
“One of the challenges that we face is the instant communications that the students have, and we all have, as a society. It’s a reality and certainly a challenge.
“What we have found is, that when we get into these types of situations, the social media, the texting, the cellphones really wreak havoc,” Browning said.
“It’s important for parents to have accurate information in an emergency or a potential emergency situation,” the superintendent said.
So, the school district and the sheriff’s office have established social media sites where parents can obtain accurate information.
“It’s important for parents join us in this partnership, for the sake of their children’s safety,” Browning said. “We created social media sites that we want parents to turn to first for information during these times of emergencies.
“It’s also important that principals in schools and staff have the ability to concentrate on their school, not answering questions at this time from parents in their community,” he added.
When parents come to campus during an emergency, they can put themselves at risk, Browning said.
The idea is to get a unified message out, said Capt. James Mallo, of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. The posted message will be approved by both the sheriff’s office and school district.
Mallo gave an example of an incident that occurred last year, when this kind of system would have been useful.
“We had a bank robber that left the bank and ran across the school property,” he said, but there wasn’t a system to let people know quickly what was happening.
“We want to make sure that the parents and teachers and students and everybody have one place to go to get this message, so that when you do have something like that happen — and a bad guy running around the area of the school — we can put out a single message that’s unified,” he said.
That takes the guesswork out of what’s happening, Mallo said.
The combination of inaccurate information and social media can create significant distractions, as law enforcement and school personnel are trying to handle a potentially dangerous situation, both men said.
“I can’t begin to tell you what a challenge it is as a school community, when we have either a controlled situation on campus or a complete lockdown.
“Everybody that has one of these things,” Browning said, holding up a smartphone. “And students are texting moms and dads.
“You know how the game of Rumor goes. They heard there was a gun on campus. The next thing you know, they’re texting mom or dad that there’s a gun on campus — when there’s not a gun that’s been confirmed on campus,” Browning said.
“We now have the ability to provide that information very quickly and accurately, to keep moms and dads calm, and let them know that first and foremost, their students are safe,” the superintendent added.
Seventeen-year-old Drew Patel, a senior at Land O’ Lakes High School, said he likes the idea of the central clearinghouse for information.
“It provides a direct line of accurate information to the parents. They know what’s going on at the school where their kids are at,” he said.
“I think it’s a great idea,” added Maddie Toth, 17, a junior.
It will help prevent the spread of rumors, she said.
Parents will be able to go to the sites “and see the real information,” she said.
“I think it will work,” Patel said.
Social Media Resources
Here are the places where parents can go to get the latest information about school safety, crime prevention and public awareness information about Pasco County Schools:
- Facebook: Facebook.com/pascosheriffschoolsafety
- Twitter: @PSOSchoolSafety
- Pasco Sheriff’s School Safety Internet Page: PascoSheriff.com/PascoSheriffSchoolSafety
What parents can expect in a school crisis
There are different kinds of school emergencies. Here is what parents can expect.
Crisis response: A coordinated response between the first responders and school personnel during an extraordinary event that could significantly impact the safety and welfare of school children and/or school staff. This kind of crisis can include, but not be limited to any overt act or threat of extreme violence, severe weather occurrence or a tragedy.
Controlled campus: This occurs when there is a potential threat or safety concern that requires a greater degree of control.
Lockdown: This occurs when there is a direct threat to the school campus itself, or the student body.
Parents are not allowed on campus and will be provided instruction as to a reunification time and location, if necessary. Parents are advised to use the social media sites to obtain information.
Published August 26, 2015