Some West Seattle parents complained Thursday that school and police officials may have put children in danger by releasing school while a suspected gunman was still on the loose. Other parents criticized officials for not doing enough to notify parents.
Some parents are criticizing the Seattle school district for releasing students from several West Seattle schools even as police were still combing the area for the gunman in Wednesday’s shootings.
School and police officials, questioned about the decision, each noted the responsibility of the other entity in making the call.
The concerns, relayed in emails to officials and in debates on blogs, illustrate the complications school districts face in responding to manhunts and, to some, reveal a need for more formal procedures.
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The complaint about the release time was one of several about the district’s shooting response, which included locking down two schools (meaning classes were stopped, the lights were turned off and all interior and exterior doors were locked) and putting six others on “shelter in place” status (meaning all exterior doors were locked but classes continued inside).
The security measures were put in place at schools near Cafe Racer in the University District, where the first shootings took place just before 11 a.m., and at schools in the northern half of West Seattle, where police around noon found a car they believe the suspect had been driving.
The measures were taken in coordination with the Seattle Police Department.
Several other schools also reportedly locked their doors after the shootings.
The fragmented nature of the response, in addition to the district’s difficulties in notifying some families, irked some parents.
But the harshest criticism came from West Seattle parents confused as to why schools lifted their security measures and let out at their normal times even as a manhunt was under way nearby.
“I’m not sure what prompted them to come to that decision (to let students out),” said Cecilia McCormick, a school-district activist whose daughter attends West Seattle’s Madison Middle, about two miles from where police found the car. “He was still out there. There were still cop cars racing around.”
Shortly before 4 p.m., about two hours after the district lifted the security measures and about an hour after several schools ended classes, the gunman apparently shot himself near the corner of 37th Avenue Southwest and Southwest Raymond Street, about a mile from several schools.
Asked why students were let out while the gunman was still at large, school and police officials each pointed to the other agency’s role.
Lesley Rogers, a school-district spokeswoman, said administrators followed directions from police, who ordered them to put security measures in place soon after the first shooting and released them from that order at about 2 p.m.
“We really work very closely with police,” Rogers said. “We rely very heavily on them. When they say that it’s lifted, we lift it.”
At a Thursday news conference, Assistant Police Chief Jim Pugel said police released schools from the order because they “had no idea where (the gunman) was.”
But, Pugel said, the final decision regarding security measures is up to the school district.
Several private schools in West Seattle and Ravenna were more cautious, maintaining their security measures for longer or ensuring that all students were picked up by a parent.
Marty McLaren, who represents West Seattle on the School Board, said she didn’t have enough information to comment on the school district’s response.
Not all parents were critical. Many praised officials for quickly implementing the security measures, and several noted that it was impractical for the schools to keep the students inside forever.
Others said they only wanted more information.
“I just want to be sure that all the right policies are in place and everything went in the way that it was supposed to to ensure everybody’s safety,” said Jon Stier, a Pathfinder K-8 parent who sent an email to Interim Superintendent Susan Enfield and Police Chief John Diaz.
In a letter to all district parents Thursday afternoon, Enfield explained the district’s decision to put the security measures in place and also acknowledged concerns about how “some families were unable to get information quickly.”
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or email@example.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.