D.C. Schools Locked Down By Fears of Emergency
Saturday, May 27, 2006
D.C. school leaders said they locked down all of the city's 147 public schools during yesterday's ordeal on Capitol Hill because they believed that the report of possible gunfire in a House office building could signal a national security problem.
This was the third time in the past five years that school leaders activated a "shelter in place" policy for all schools, keeping students indoors and prohibiting visitors from entering buildings. All schools were locked down immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and in October 2002, during the sniper attacks, when a student was shot outside a Prince George's County school.
"It was somewhat confusing, because when we reached out to the [police department], no one had any direct information on how this would impact schools. . . . We didn't know if this was a national security problem that would affect all students," said Theodore Tuckson, the school system's director of security.
Superintendent Clifford B. Janey ordered the lockdown about 11 a.m., and he lifted the restriction about two hours later, said Meria J. Carstarphen, the system's chief accountability officer. Janey made both decisions, she said, based on consultation with school security officials, police and the mayor's office.
Janey opted to "err on the side of caution," she said.
Some parents second-guessed the action. At Watkins Elementary School on Capitol Hill, parent Leslie Allen called the actions "overkill," adding, "If you live in this town and you paid attention to every little thing, you'd go nuts."
But Assistant D.C. Police Chief Gerald M. Wilson, who heads the department's school security division, said he understood the need for caution. School leaders did not consult top police officials before acting, Wilson said, but they have no obligation to do so.
Wilson said no schools are within a quarter-mile of the Capitol, but five are within three-quarters of a mile.
Staff writer Elissa Silverman contributed to this report.