Parent Notification System Needs Updating

It’s time for the Jamestown Public Schools to re-think their stance on parental notification.

A couple of weeks ago, Jamestown High School went into a lockdown when someone in the area threw firecrackers near the school. No one was hurt and no notification was ever sent to parents. Then, on Tuesday, word of a reported threat began making the rounds on social media. Jamestown police had investigated the threat and deemed it not credible. Mike McElrath, Jamestown High School principal, posted a message to the school’s Facebook page in the middle of the morning Wednesday. That was far too late, however. Parents had already seen the threat on social media and made plans to keep their child home. They didn’t know that Jamestown police would have additional manpower at the school to deter a possible threat. They didn’t know that police knew of the threat and that their investigation had ruled it baseless.

Parents should give credit to Jamestown police and Jamestown Public Schools officials for doing a good job keeping the high school safe. That is the most important task in our current environment.

In our view, they dropped the ball on the smaller issue of public notification. It is a difficult issue, and we fully understand that police and school officials want to avoid a public panic if at all possible by not releasing information on issues unless there is something for the public to actually be worried about. That was possible a decade ago. In 2018, it is impossible to keep a lid on threats made against a school or instances when a school goes into lockdown or lockout. Social media long ago put an end to the idea that unpleasant news about a school can be easily kept from the public.

Knowing this, and hearing outcry from parents, it’s time for all area school districts, including Jamestown, to be much more proactive in notifying parents when there is a threat or a lockdown of their child’s school. Schools should have clear policies for how districts and law enforcement will deal with these threats — both legitimate threats and hoaxes. Notifications must be done quickly and be done through one agency so as to avoid confusion that sets in when the social media rumor mill is let to run rampant as it did earlier this week in Jamestown.

This is also a good time for school officials to refresh the public’s collective memory about school safety plans and make sure parents are kept up to date on potential improvements to school safety. New York schools were required to create safety plans nearly two decades ago in the wake of the Columbine, Colo., school shooting. It has been some time since there has been a public discussion of those plans, and now seems like as good a time as any.