For the second straight day, the Durham Public Schools Friday ordered schools on “lockout” in response to police activity near them.
Hillside High School, Shepard Middle School and W.G. Pearson Elementary and Fayetteville Street Elementary schools were placed on lockout on Friday, Feb. 16.
“It was in response to a call about the sound of shots,” said Durham Police Department spokeswoman Kammie Michaels. “Officers searched the area but did not find a suspect or weapon.”
When schools are placed on lockout, no one is allowed in or out but instruction continues. That’s different than when a school is placed on lockdown and students and staff are told to lock classroom doors and to shelter in place until the threat has passed.
On Thursday, Eno Valley Elementary School, Carrington Middle School and Northern High School were all placed on lockout after a report from an unnamed source about students running near the schools who possibly had a gun.
“We got a call yesterday [Thursday] about suspicious persons, possibly with a weapon, in the area of those schools,” Michaels said. “We found some truants, but no weapon was found.”
DPS said the tip Thursday about the students was possibly driven by the school shooting Wednesday in Parkland, Florida where 17 students and teachers were killed and 14 others suffered injuries, five life-threatening, when the accused shooter, 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz, allegedly pulled a fire alarm to draw students out of classrooms shortly before the day ended at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“We placed the schools on lockout just as a safety precaution while the incident was being investigated,” said Tina Ingram, the Durham school district’s director of security. “We can appreciate that folks are on heightened alert and are reporting things around their schools.”
In the aftermath of Wednesday’s school shooting in Florida, DPS sent a scripted robocall to principals to share with parents. That call was sent before the tip was received that led to the lockout Thursday.
It read in part: “We have security plans in place to support our students and staff, and work closely with our partners in law enforcement. The best way to keep our school safe is to maintain healthy and open relationships between adults and students. Let your child know that we are here to support them, especially if they have information about a situation that causes them concern. If any student is upset about what happened in Florida or needs to talk, our school counselors and staff are ready to help.”
In Wake County, school officials, in response to questions from parents about security, drafted a letter to reassure parents. The letter cited the district’s “proactive plans and procedures to protect our students” and frequent drills to improve “measures for responding to emergency situations” and work with “area law enforcement to continuously review, evaluate and strengthen security at our schools.”
Scott Denton, DPS’ assistant superintendent of auxiliary services, said DPS has two lockdown drills per year to teach students and staff how to respond in the event their school is under attack.
Denton said principals also undergo training before school starts each year so that they’ll know what their responsibility is in the event schools are placed on lockdown.
He declined to discuss in detail the drills or training due to concern that the information could be misused.
“I don’t want to share too much,” Denton said. “Folks can get ideas from that.”
Denton said he spent time with several DPS bus drivers on Wednesday as part of “Bus Driver Appreciation Week” and several drivers expressed concern about safety in the wake of the Florida shooting.
“All of them were aware of the shooting and concerned about prevention, and they want to know why this keeps happening,” Denton said.
In Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, CHCCS spokesman Jeff Nash said individual teachers and principals may have discussed the incident with students on Wednesday but there was no district directive to do so.