“We live in a sheltered community, and we don’t think it can happen here. It’s here.”
Such were the words of Panaca Elementary’s principal, Pete Peterson, during a meeting for parents and staff held in Panaca this past Tuesday, March 6. The meeting was held following multiple lockdowns that have occurred at Panaca’s schools recently.
The first of these occurred on the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 21 when someone acting erratically entered Lincoln County High School, which sent the facility into high alert. The person then left and was later arrested at a home on Main Street. The following day, another troubled individual entered the school. This person was also arrested, with the schools staying in lockdown to make sure that the situation was dealt with.
Finally, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, a threat was issued on Facebook towards one of the schools, and yet again, lockdowns were issued.
These incidents have put many in the community on edge. In response, the principals and faculty of the Panaca-based schools held a meeting to discuss what their plans are, and what they intend to do in case any other situations arise. While the entire plan was not shared (the principals agreed it would be best not to inform anyone who might want to cause harm to the schools), they did go over some key details.
Some of the information shared included tips for parents: such as being active and informative with kids. As long as proper procedures are reviewed with children, they will be prepared.
Another major request from the schools was that parents not pick up their kids immediately in an emergency situation. In the best of scenarios, parents can prove to be a hassle for law enforcement and faculty while they deal with a very tense situation. In the worst of scenarios, they can provide transportation to a criminal, a possible hostage, or another unfortunate victim. The schools strongly advised that the parents wait for the all clear, and then retrieve their kids.
“We will protect your kids,” Peterson said emphatically.
Yet parents still had their concerns. One parent talked about possibly arming the faculty, but the principals said that this was strictly forbidden by the school district, because when law enforcement arrives to take care of a situation, they don’t want to misidentify the perpetrator, and accidentally cause harm to an innocent armed person.
A few people in the meeting found issue with this, claiming that it was the principals’ decision and not the superintendent’s.
Another question was what the schools will be doing to help better protect the kids. Most of the solutions were based on being able to communicate more clearly: new radios are being issued so that the different schools can communicate more quickly. These radios are also connected to the sheriff’s office so that they can respond immediately. Another communication solution is connecting the intercom to the gym and theater building, notwithstanding the terrible echo inside the gym.
The schools also explained how they keep certain doors shut during the day and are considering having to buzz people in.
Walls were also brought up, but Peterson pointed out that any wall that can keep people out will also keep people in, making them easier to target. The concern with increasing school security is that parents don’t want their kids going to school in a prison, but parents admitted that they wouldn’t fight this line of thinking as long as their kids were kept safe.
Another option being considered is having a police officer dedicated to working with the schools, but this idea still needs to be reviewed.
In the end, the faculty in Panaca provided the parents with reassurance and a strong admonition to be vigilant. They pleaded with the parents to teach their kids that when they see something, they need to say something. These seemingly small steps are key to making Panaca and the rest of the county safe for the most innocent of us all.