A Mailman Segal Institute for Early Childhood Studies parent seeks to revise the Broward County school lockdown procedures following an incident that forced all Broward County schools into lockdown on Nov. 10.
Brenda Wilcox, who has a four-year-old daughter at MSI, was among dozens of parents who waited outside the school’s doors after a woman called a radio station saying that her husband was going to start shooting at a school in Pembroke Pines.
Wilcox said that her husband told her about the lockdown, and when she came to pick up her daughter at 12:15 p.m. an officer told her that she could not go into the school and he would inform her when she could. She waited more than three hours.
Wilcox said that she wants to do research on what lockdown rules typically entail. She said she wants to find out if public schools have the right to do anything outside of what the police and the superintendent tell them to. She said she wants to find out what the steps would be to amend those rules.
“I would like to be able to prevent chaos and parents who get angry to the point of doing something they wish they hadn’t done,” she said. “And kids who were terrified that didn’t have to be because they were held for two or three hours after their parents normally pick them up. Older kids are OK, but it’s the little ones, the elementary schools kids, who don’t understand.”
Wilcox said that that locking down the schools was a great first step in keeping children safe but that there needed to be a second part to the plan.
“Whatever would happen if they don’t find this man threatening our schools and our children in the next 10 hours?” she said. “They’re not going to keep the kids that long. Eventually they would have to make a plan to bring the children and their families together. In the plan, they should find a way to start implementing that as soon as possible. Whoever signed off that rule in Broward County really made a mistake by not finishing it off and adding that plan to it.”
Marsy Smith, district spokeswoman for Broward County schools, said that there are plans for extended lockdowns. She said each school has a safety team and a safety plan, which covers every possible situation.
“We still have to act on the side of caution and safety for students, so regardless of how long it lasted — hypothetically, two or three days — we would keep them in a safe and secure place until law enforcement gives us the okay to lift the lockdown,” Smith said. “We have food at the schools so we would be able to provide food and water during the time that they were there.”
Smith said that parents shouldn’t go to schools during lock-downs because they cannot enter the school and the students will not be dismissed.
“The best source of information for parents is our information hotline number, which they can call to get updates,” she said. “We also put updates on our Web site. And obviously, the media are good sources of information as well.”
Wilcox said that she couldn’t imagine schools being locked down for more than 24 hours.
“That would be unconstitutional to take them away from their parents that way,” she said. “I’m sure there must be something that would hold against that. Of course, if within certain square miles, they know that that danger is right there, those schools may have to wait a little longer.”
The University School and MSI participated in the lockdown because, although NSU is not required to, the university usually follows suite when Broward County closes its public and charter schools, said Jim Lambe, assistant director of communications at the Office of Public Safety Office.
Christina Gruendel, operations manager for MSI, said the institute locks down with the county because the Baudhuin Preschool, one of MSI’s programs, is a county program. The children who attend Baudhuin are county school students and are brought to the school on county buses.
Gruendel said that MSI fol-lows the Office of Public Safety’s directions during lockdowns. The doors are locked from the outside so that nobody can enter. Public safety officers stand at the entrances and signs on the doors notify people that they cannot enter.
“When the county called off their lockdowns, then we waited for the university to do the same thing. As soon as we got word through Public Safety that it had been lifted then everything went back to normal,” Gruendel said.
Gruendel said that the institute is locked down as long as they are directed to and since they are in a self-contained building, there would be no problem getting food for the students.
“It would have to go beyond 12 hours before we would have to consider how we would get more food in here. And we would go based on what the university and the chancellor and public safety would recommend at that point,” she said.
Gruendel said that exceptions would only be made in medical emergency cases and those would be deferred to the Office of Public Safety or the Davie police department.
Wilcox said she believes this shouldn’t happen.
“There needs to be a line drawn somewhere where the parents are told, ‘Look, if by this time they haven’t caught him, we will implement a plan because we have no right to keep your children from you forever.’ If you don’t draw line at some point, then your rights get taken away, little by little,” she said.
Wilcox said that for now, she is researching the situation.
“If I feel like I have what it takes to make a difference, then I’ll probably show up to meetings to where citizens have a right to speak their minds,” she said.