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Home News-Telegram News County schools on ‘heightened awareness’ Wednesday

County schools on ‘heightened awareness’ Wednesday

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School officials in the seven county districts noted that their campuses were put into “lockdown” status Tuesday morning after receiving news that capital murder suspect Brian Tucker and John Marlin King, who was held for violation of parole and had recently been sentenced to 40 years in prison on drug charges, had escaped from the county jail.

 

Sulphur Springs schools remained in a state of “heightened awareness” Wednesday, as a precaution while the two inmates who escaped Hopkins County jail remained on the loose. Rural school districts in Hopkins County also were in “heightened awareness” or “yellow” lockdown Wednesday pending news of the escapees.  

District officials said because the schools had already imposed certain restrictions due to STAAR testing this week it was less disrupting to those campuses than would have been case on a regular school day. Most school administrators also emphasized that they expect the lockdowns to have little or no impact on testing.

At Sulphur Springs Independent School District, Superintendent Michael Lamb said the district went into a state of lockdown, although a bit altered from a full “lockdown.”

“When law enforcement called to tell us inmates escaped and what had happened, we had to react quickly. We have proceedings for this type of situation. Our ‘lockdown’ is a little extreme for what we needed yesterday,” Lamb said, noting a full lockdown would mean turning off the lights, moving away from open areas and students getting down in a protective position. “The students were not in the back of their rooms with their knees up. This might be the situation if we know a shooter is loose and targeting schools. That wasn’t the case here. There was no indication they were armed.”

Lamb said that while there was no reason to believe the escapees would target schools nor was there any information that they were armed, administrators concern was that the inmates might enter one of the district buildings in their haste to elude officers should they flee in the area of a school property.

“We felt it was in the best interest of the school to take measures if by chance one ran by the school and chose to hide,” Lamb said.

He noted that all campuses were locked and entry restricted or denied during the school day. Students were locked into rooms with teachers during the day, particularly during the STAAR test, and information about the escapees was communicated among staff.  Lamb said he did not believe the safety measures would negatively impact testing.

“As far as early preparations, this happening on a testing day might actually have worked as a benefit for us. It created a quieter atmosphere for us for testing. The kids didn’t know about it. At high school, those testing had to hand their phones in, so unless they got it before, they didn’t know during the test,” Lamb said.

School officials also put out a release via principals and media that seniors were expected to report to campus at 1:45 p.m., failing to do so would count as an absence.

“The radio did mention about attendance, and some heard it as a threat,” Lamb said. “It was never intended as a threat, and we apologize if for any miscommunication.”

Lamb said primarily the absence will be important for state funding, but that the absence will not be held against any senior who did not report to school Tuesday because of the escapees. That includes for any school-related testing or other exemptions or truancy issues. 

“It counts for the sake of funding, but will not be used to count against the student,” Lamb said.

The district did opt to take precautionary measures Tuesday for student dismissal. Lamb put out an alert via the media and schools that while classes would release at regular time Tuesday, no students would be allowed to walk home. Those students who normally walk home had to be picked up at their campuses. Also, students who ride buses were “expected to be accepted by an adult at their regular bus stop.” The district attempted to make calls to those parents. If parents were not reached by phone prior to bus dismissal, those students were kept at their respective campus for parent pick-up. Also, if parents were not available when the student was to be dropped off, bus drivers were told to bring the kids back to school. 

Traffic at middle school backed up longer than usual Tuesday afternoon as parents were required to tell staff who they were picking up and then the student was escorted out as a precaution. Staff also were at the other campuses with students for dismissal.

SSISD Tuesday initially began the day in an “light” lockdown again, but by 10 a.m. had loosened to a state of “heightened awareness,” allowing more movement inside campuses with staff “more alert and aware of people coming and going.” Points of entry will continue to be limited to one central access point,  and students and staff will remain indoors

“They’ll stay inside. We’re considering there is a threat still. Particularly at high school, there is heightened awareness. And with testing going on, our goal for the kids is for things to be as normal as possible — whatever is normal during testing. Kids will be in the school building, we’ll funnel all check-in to one door at the campuses. At high school, we won’t just be releasing kids for doctor’s appointments. Parents will have to come in to sign them out.,” Lamb said.

He noted the staff will remain on heightened alert until either the pair is captured or officials advise the threat is lessened as a precaution for students and staff.

Como-Pickton Consolidated ISD increased hall monitoring; the normal number of hall monitors were already present for state testing, but school officials staged hall monitors at each entrance door. All doors were locked and teachers remained in classes with students, who were not allowed to exit the classrooms Tuesday, according to Dustin Carr, CP High School principal.

Carr said recent lockdown drills conducted at the school made for an easy transition from testing monitored to locked-down. 

“Teachers did a wonderful job. He’d prepared with drills in the past. It helped so everyone knew all of the whats and wheres of it. It definitely helped us,” Carr said.

He noted the district was in a “yellow” lockdown both Tuesday and Wednesday. “Red” lockdown would have meant all doors are locked, lights turned off, students and staff move in away from windows and doors. Yellow means work continues in classrooms as normal. Classrooms will continue normal indoor activities and staff will go on with regular duties while remaining at a level of heightened awareness today.

Students were made aware of the lockdown after STAAR tests, and younger CP students for the most part knew only that the school was in lock down — something they’d done before when a skunk entered the campus so there was very little concern among elementary students.

For dismissal, CP administrators were positioned at the front of the campus and students were escorted to their parents when picked up. Bus riders were let off the bus if the bus driver knew an adult was present, so the child would not be left alone.

Cumby Superintendent Lance Campbell said both the high school and elementary campuses were locked, with classrooms locked Tuesday after they were advised of the escapes. Students remained inside the building. For lunch, a bus was brought to the high school to carry students to the elementary campus, where the cafeteria is located. Cumby police escorted the buses to the campuses as a precaution for student safety.

“It was a pretty calm day. Kids were not allowed to go campus to campus,” Campbell said, noting all students were kept inside the two main campuses instead of switching classes to auxiliary or outbuildings Tuesday.

Administrative staff went door-to-door to notify teachers the campus would be into lockdown Tuesday, as testing was already underway.

“As for testing, it’s hard to say the overall impact. As the day went on, kids started to find out the reason for the lockdown,” Campbell said.

With police patrolling the area and a constant presence, Cumby dismissed as usual, with staff alert Tuesday afternoon. Staff made attempts to ensure students did not go home to a residence sans adult presence. Some kids were held if parents weren’t immediately home, as a precaution.

Cumby will continue a state of alertness, with activities resuming as usual within the two main campuses until they receive information from law enforcement that would allow lifting the precaution.

Miller Grove school, upon learning of the escape and situation, put the district into lockdown all day. After STAAR testing was complete, parents were contacted and told students could be picked up a little early. Most students were not aware of the lockdown and why until after the tests, MG Principal Kim Irby said. All students had to be picked up at the school, with a parent signing them out. No buses were run as a precaution. The last student was picked up about 5:30 p.m.

The district remains in soft lockdown Wednesday, with campuses secured. Entry will be at the discretion of staff. 

Saltillo both Tuesday and Wednesday were placed in a “soft lockdown.” The school resource office, a position added in January, monitored entry. There was no single  exiting of buildings or outside, only in groups. The status will remain in effect as long as the local search continues. Testing was not affected by the lockdown. Dismissal continues as usual, with awareness for anything suspicious, said Saltillo ISD Interim Superintendent Kevin Woolley.

Sulphur Bluff ISD also initiated and still has in effect a “soft lockdown.” Dismissal is normal, with attentiveness.

North Hopkins also was locked down, with staff having to use their access cards to move within the building.

The school initiated its call down system to alert parents Tuesday that students would not be allowed to go home on a bus if an adult was not present to receive them. Parents were asked to let school staff know they would be home if their child was a bus rider, according to Superintendent Donna George.

The campus remained in a state of light lockdown Wednesday too.

 

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