School In, Danger Out

Kaitlyn Shacklett, Co-Editor

In a society where teens jam out to songs about violence, and active shooters in U.S. schools go unreported on national news, people have become desensitized to these devastating events and other school safety breaches.

On December 1, 2016 at Olathe Northwest High School, a student discovered a handgun inside a backpack in the men’s restroom, but no owner to be found. The administrators prompted a lockdown where students remained in their classrooms past normal dismissal time while the authorities searched for the owner. As a safety precaution, a nearby Prairie Trail Middle School stayed under lockdown until they also received the all-clear. Both schools’ administrators released students at 4 P.M.

Olathe Northwest Senior Jonah Laughlin, present the day of the lockdown, said the school administration and police handled the situation very well.

“Panic was kept at a minimum. At first we were a little shocked, but they generously updated us with more and more information over the intercom, and they made sure everyone was safe,” Laughlin said.

Two instances concerning gun threats put both Shawnee Mission West High School and Grandview High School under lockdown in early January.

With events such as these occurring within a 30-mile radius of Olathe East, the possibility of East going under lockdown for gun violence and threats is becoming more prevalent. Is Olathe East prepared for something like this?

“These events are horrible. It’s my worst nightmare as a principal. However, principal Kerry Lane said the school currently has a protocol enforced by the Olathe School District to handle an active shooter in the building called A.L.I.C.E., meaning Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate.

“This new protocol gets rid of the ‘sitting duck’ tactic that schools have been using for a while now. Students and staff are now advised to act against an intruder to protect themselves,” Lane said.

In the case of Olathe Northwest, administration did not enforce A.L.I.C.E since the lockdown was only precautionary. However, the school put into play a plan previously made by the school authorities.

“Every school has a crisis team that includes the principal, vice principals, the SRO (if applicable), school psychologist, nurse, the police department and any other members the principal wants on that team,” Lane said.

When an adult in the school receives information of a potential threat to students and/or staff, the principal pulls together that crisis team, each with a different responsibility.

“As an administrator, it’s my job to give all teachers and students as much information as I can. Other crisis members could be working with the Olathe Police Department or updating parents,” Lane said.

Social media and cellphones have become a controversial aspect in situations like Olathe Northwest in the past five years.

“Cell phones allow us to contact others in the building. I texted my brother to see if he was okay, and I told my parents we are safe,” Laughlin said concerning the December 1 lockdown.

One worry cellphones and social media bring forth in a crisis is panic, and therefore, the spread of false information.

“We only want factual information going out to parents, but we as administrators hear most of the information about a situation from students themselves,” Lane said.

To help with giving information to students and staff during a crisis, the school placed surveillance cameras in all areas of the building, excluding bathrooms and locker rooms, in 2015. Olathe East also keeps a School Resource Officer on the premises at all times.

“Officer Jaegers is an extreme help on a daily basis at the school. It helps the students feel safe when there is an officer around,” Lane said.

Even though these safety procedures and precautions assist the school authorities at the time of a crisis situation, they don’t prevent intruders from coming into the school.

“At East, we have a system that we are piloting for the rest of the district stating next year. After school begins at 8:00, all doors will be locked, and the only way to get in is to be buzzed in by the front office. For safety reasons only, an alarm will also sound if any door going outside is propped open.,” Lane said.

Additionally, if a parent or other adult visits the school, the front office have the ability to scan their ID and see if  that person has any charges that will make an administrator hesitant to let them into the building.

“We want to be reasonable with safety because we don’t want to run a prison, but we want students and parents believe that between the hours of 8:00 and 3:00, school is one of the safest places you can be,” Lane said.

Presently, the possibility of a crisis occurring at Olathe East remains. Therefore, students must know to take any situation seriously.

“You see this sort of thing in the news sometimes, and you know it happens. However, you never think something like this could really happen at your own school until it actually does,” Laughlin said.


Kaitlyn Shacklett // Co-Editor