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Rumor put to rest, schools are safe

By NEESEY PAYNE

neesey@southwesttimes.com

Pulaski County Public Schools will be under normal operations today after rumor of an alleged threat facing Pulaski Middle School has been disproved.

PMS was placed on a “preventative lockdown” Tuesday morning after a student voiced concern that a threat was facing the school. Once learned, the school system immediately notified law enforcement and “instituted emergency protocols” – increasing security in all town of Pulaski schools and placing Pulaski and Critzer elementary schools on an “internal lockdown” because of their proximity to the middle school.

Students remained in their classrooms and instruction continued as the investigation took place.

Capt. Anthony Meredith, Pulaski Police Department, said the rumor began from a conversation that took place Jan. 5 by a Pulaski resident in the workplace. He explained that the resident, who spoke limited English, said she was concerned for the safety of her and her relative’s children after reading an online article that linked the shootings in Connecticut and Colorado to Narrows. The conversation was misinterpreted by another co-worker, who thought she said there was a threat in Giles and Pulaski schools.

“The misinterpretation led to questions regarding any current threats being made to schools in Pulaski County,” states Meredith in a press release.

The investigation found the initial conversation was further misconstrued as it passed from person to person, involving over 10 witnesses. “The information became distorted as it was passed between other witnesses to the point where a concerned student at Pulaski Middle School reported the comments to the school,” he stated.

Some parents in the community were concerned the school system didn’t immediately notify them of the lockdown through the school’s notification system after law enforcement was advised of the alleged threat. Some even checked out their child from school due to “safety” reasons.

“I think the (school system) did the right thing by locking down the schools, but once they were locked down it would have been comforting to have had the alert system to notify parents as to what was going on and that they had taken steps to keep the children safe. … Doing a call could have been a relief vs. listening to the news announcing every five minutes that the schools are on lockdown and no one knows what is going on,” stated Chasity Marshall on Pulaski County Public Schools’ Facebook page.

With the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting at the forefront of minds, school systems across the country have been dealing with similar situations concerning rumors—taking extra precautionary measures to ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff.

In a letter that will be sent home with students today, Dr. Thomas Brewster, superintendent of schools, states, “Our first priority was to ensure the safety of our faculty, staff and students. Once we were able to provide accurate and helpful information, we released a statement on our website and Facebook page. It has been a standard practice to use the parent notification system when parent action is necessary.”

The letter continues on to say, “When we receive information that we are unable to verify, we will request assistance from law enforcement and follow their recommendations until it is determined that the threat no longer exists.”

“I think they handled it very well,” said Stephanie Repass, a parent of a Pulaski Elementary School student. She said she had to check out her child 10 minutes early from school due to an appointment. Upon arriving, she said, all doors were locked and parents were instructed to go in two at a time to get their children. Repass said she had to present identification before signing her child out of school.

Pulaski Middle School Principal Theresa Reed said she was impressed with the “phenomenal response” by Central Office staff, students, faculty and the police department.  “The kids were great. They followed instructions and just rolled with the schedule and operational changes. Students, teachers and staff adapted quickly and did what needed to be done to continue their day,” she said.  “I can’t say enough about the support from Central Office and Pulaski Police Department. Several officers were here immediately and stayed while the investigation was being conducted.”

Letters were sent home from the principals at Pulaski Middle and the two elementary schools Tuesday afternoon, explaining how the situation was handled.

In an interview, Brewster said, “Our job is to do what’s best for our students when they’re under our care.” He states in the superintendent’s letter that the response to Tuesday’s events will be reviewed with the Central Emergency Planning Team as the school system continues to “evaluate and improve (its) safety procedures.”

Brewster, principals and law enforcement all stated in response to the investigation that information concerning the safety of the school system is taken seriously and if anyone has information concerning the safety of schools to notify someone immediately.

The school system thanks Pulaski Police Department, Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office, students, faculty and staff for their cooperation.

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