Lockdown. It's a chilling term that has become all too common on school campuses across Florida.
Just weeks into the new year, a Tampa Bay middle school was put on lockdown and eventually evacuated after reports of a possible bomb.
"They're so scared, I just want to come and get them,” said Luciane Ferreira who arrived at the school early to pick up her two daughters.
Fortunately, the bomb scare was just that, but school lockdowns have become a reality other parents like Amanda Maddocks have become used to.
"She had a lot in middle school, less in high school," said Maddocks whose 15-year-old daughter attends Robinson High School in Hillsborough County. "It became less scary over time because it happened frequently," she said when talking about her daughter’s middle school years.
While most school lockdowns are the result of incidents off campus and unrelated to students, in Florida we found the frequency of schools shutting down to the outside is on the rise.
According to school districts around the state, the number of school lockdowns is up, on average, 40 percent statewide over the past two years but that's just according to the ones who track them. Turns out not all school districts track lockdown incidents.
In Palm Beach County, school police recorded a 5 percent increase in lockdowns over the last two years...from 123 recorded during the 2015/2016 school year versus 129 last year.
According to the Chief of school police, the basic details are entered into a computer-aided dispatch system but the district, “does not keep a count on the number of lockdowns.”
Nor does Hillsborough County where a district spokesperson reported 29 lock-ins last year but acknowledged not all schools record incidents since a school lockdown can be lifted quickly depending on the situation.
In fact, we've discovered school lockdown tracking is spotty among districts across the state.
"We are not required to capture this," said a spokesperson for Broward County schools, the state’s second largest district.
"Not all lockdowns are reported to the district," replied Lee County school spokesperson, Melissa Mickey.
And in Pasco County, “well, we don’t keep a database,” said district spokesperson Linda Cobbe.
Like most Florida school districts, Pasco's 170 schools depend primarily on the local sheriff's department for campus safety and security threats.
And like many other districts, unless a school lockdown is part of a criminal investigation, incidents are rarely, if ever documented by police, the school or the school district. There is no policy that requires Florida schools track lockdowns.
“I don’t know what the benefit is because we do know what’s happening in our schools,” said Cobbe who reported told us the district had just two lockdowns last year but couldn't tell us the number the year prior.
“I think there's a benefit to looking at good data just to look at how often we're using the plan,” said Pasco County Sheriff Lt. Troy Fergueson. He overseas deputies that work with the Pasco County school district. The Sheriff’s office and the district recently revamped its security response system taking the term “lockdown” out of the district’s vocabulary.
Busy mom of 3, Ellie Hirsch is a national parenting expert who typically offers advice to parents ( mommymasters.com ), after we shared with her our lockdown findings, Hirsch has some advice for schools.
“In the world we live in today, somebody should be looking at what is going on because maybe they can learn from it. They can use it as training so last year on June 8th we did this, it didn’t go so well here’s what we can learn from it,” she said.
Because when it comes to student safety, any parent will tell you can never have too much insight.
“As a school and a school system they should know how many times this has happened and why,” said Amanda Maddocks.
School Lockdowns – by the numbers
Click here to see how many school lockdowns occurred across our state and which school districts don’t track them.
Ellie Hirsch of mommymasters.com shares tips on how to talk to your kids about school lockdowns:
- Ask your child questions about what happened and how it made them feel.
- Validate their feelings/emotions.
- Check in with them in the days and weeks after to find out if they’re still thinking about it/having nightmares/eating/sleeping habits change.
- If necessary, bring a school counselor into the conversation if your child seems to be concerned or expresses fear.
What parents should know about school lockdowns:
- Ask your child’s school about its lockdown policies- what constitutes a lockdown, what happens when a lockdown takes place, how are you notified of one etc.
- Ask for a history of lockdown incidents, if they don’t track them, find out why.
- Remain calm when a lockdown occurs at your child’s school.