Families in the Sequim School District received an alarming phone call on the evening of Thursday, Dec. 20, about false allegations of a student planning to bring a gun to Sequim High School the next day.
Parents had mixed reactions Friday morning as some called the district office thanking them for the message, others needed more answers and some were angry, said Superintendent Kelly Shea.
The message read, "This is an important announcement from the Sequim School District concerning allegations of weapons at school. Earlier today it was reported that a student would bring a gun to Sequim High School tomorrow. The Sequim Police Department has completed a thorough investigation and found nothing to support this allegation. The Sequim School District takes the safety of your children seriously and investigates all such allegations. Please be aware that this allegation was unsubstantiated. Thank you."
Shea said he made the decision to send out an automated voice message because he believed many people would find out through social networking and rumors.
“If parents were to hear it as a rumor, they might think there is some threat to the high school,” he said.
“In light of the Sandy Hook School shooting last Friday, the believed-to-be last day of the world today and this being the week before Christmas vacation, it's been an emotional week. We didn't feel the appropriate response was not saying anything.”
The allegation began with a student in the middle school who believed to have heard another high school student talking about someone bringing a gun to the high school.
Police Chief Bill Dickinson said the police spoke with the students involved but couldn't find any basis for the allegation.
“It never led back to anything credible,” he said.
Shea said the interviews revealed there weren't any names, places or times from the students' conversation.
“There wasn't anything substantiating this rumor,” he said.
In hindsight, Shea said the district needs to improve its communication with parents and staff and work with media and other outlets more to answer those kinds of questions.
“It's unusual to get a call like that,” he said. “The information was too vague. We should have given more information. That's the lesson we were learning last night: how effective our communication is.”
Sequim's situation isn't unique as schools nationwide and statewide are finding similar threats, Dickinson said.
“This stuff gets out on Facebook and people talk and make comments that to them are innocuous. It's kind of like Y2K. But people don't take it lightly with the recent Connecticut shootings. The school is being extra cautious.”
The police and school district met prior to the gun allegations on Wednesday, Dec. 19, to discuss protocols for events similar to the Sandy Hook shooting.
Shea said procedures remain the same for classrooms in that if there is imminent danger, staff go into lockdown procedure: lock the doors, put themselves and the students in a safe area and wait for law enforcement.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.