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Lockdown drills paying off at schools

For many students, practicing a school lockdown is routine to a fire or earthquake drill. Recently, a few Kitsap County elementary schools had more than a lockdown drill.

Last week, a South Kitsap elementary school locked down because there was a possible threat to the school in connection to an attempted Silverdale bank robbery. Last month, Armin Jahr Elementary School in Bremerton also locked down after a gun accidentally discharged while in a student’s backpack, and the bullet from the gun struck another classmate.

School administrators say policies are kept in place for the safety of students and staff. A school lockdown is included and could take effect if there is a safety concern. Parents understand that sometimes situations occur that are beyond a school’s control and they do the best that they are able to.

With last Thursday’s incident, a Bremerton woman attempted to rob a Silverdale bank and told Kitsap County sheriff’s deputies that unknown men “made” her do it and that her son was in jeopardy. Although it was discovered that the woman had no bomb with her, she initially posed a bomb threat.

Dave Colombini, director of school and family support for the South Kitsap School District, said the school’s resource officer — who was contacted by the sheriff’s office — told him that there was “police activity” at a bank and a student’s name — the woman’s son — was mentioned.

The school that the boy attends, Mullenix Ridge in Port Orchard, went through a lockdown for about 15 minutes, Colombini said.

“As a precaution, they were going to make sure the students were safe,” he said.

Lockdown drills are practiced throughout the district’s schools and Colombini said that a school could go into lockdown for a variety of reasons. No one was injured during last Thursday’s incident, Colombini said.

“This was very short-lived. We’re just grateful everyone was fine,” he added.

Schools in the Central Kitsap School District also practice lockdown drills and a school could go into lockdown when there is a safety concern and students and staff need to remain isolated from an incident, said David Beil, spokesman for the school district.

“During some years, the building may only experience a lockdown in a drill situation. In other years, a school may experience a lockdown in addition to a drill,” Beil said. “It is not typical that a school does a lockdown other than in a drill situation in a school year.”

When Armin Jahr went into lockdown Feb. 22, Carol Cox’s two grandchildren who attend the school said they felt safe and that their teachers were in control of the situation. Cox has a grandson in second grade and a granddaughter in fourth grade at the school.

A third-grade boy brought a handgun to school that accidentally discharged while in his backpack at the end of the school day. The bullet struck classmate Amina Kocer-Bowman, who has undergone many surgeries and is still in the hospital.

Cox said that the school did the best they could have, although it was scary for some parents who did not know if their children were injured.

“It would have been nice to notify parents, but it was at the end of the school day,” Cox said, adding that getting communication out quickly at that time is difficult.

During the lockdown, all the window blinds were put down, the lights were turned off and all the students went to the furthest corner of the room, Cox’s granddaughter said.

“The staff did an excellent job in a difficult situation,” Cox said. “The kids knew what to do.”

The day after the lockdown, Armin Jahr’s principal sent a letter out to all families explaining the reason for the lockdown as well as information that grief counselors were available for students, staff and families.

Patty Glaser, Bremerton School District’s spokeswoman, said that nothing has changed in the district’s policies or procedures in response to the incident at Armin Jahr. Lockdown drills at the schools are practiced on a monthly basis, she said.

“Those are systems you have in place to be proactive,” Glaser said.

Bremerton schools have a zero tolerance for weapons at school — as well as in Central and South Kitsap — and the rules are explained in the student handbook. Every year, students receive the handbook and have the rules explained to them. It is also available online at the district’s website.

February’s situation at Armin Jahr could have been avoided had someone checked the student’s backpack before heading to school, Glaser said.

“We are partners with the parents. We have a role with the children as do they,” she said.

It’s not necessarily always a check for weapons, but making sure there is no day-old lunch in a child’s backpack or that a library book gets returned to school, Glaser said.

Staci Rigby, who has a daughter in kindergarten at Armin Jahr, said things like an increase in police presence around the school is reassuring. From a community safety standpoint in general, more people do not walk alone or at night, she said.

Could the school have done anything else to have prevented what happened that Wednesday afternoon at her daughter’s school?

“You don’t see it coming. It just happens,” Rigby said.

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