How Can Half Moon Bay High School Better Handle a Lockdown?

School officials debrief last week's lockdown at the high school and identify areas for improvement.

Half Moon Bay High School
Half Moon Bay High School
The Cabrillo Unified School District (CUSD) administrative team, along with Half Moon Bay High School (HMBHS) principal Allison Silvestri, met Monday morning with several representatives from the San Mateo County Sheriff's Department in order to debrief their actions during last Thursday's Sheriff's Department initiated lockdown of the high school because police were on the hunt in the area for a carjacking suspect.

The debriefing brought to light that even though the response to the lockdown was "swift and effective, we identified some areas for improvement," said CUSD superintendent Tony Roehrick.

In a letter later sent to HMBHS staff, students, parents, and community members shortly after the lockdown, high school principal Silvestri writes: "As a team, we had all students and staff safe and locked down within minutes of the notification by the Sherriff’s Department. The students responded quickly to adult directives and acted responsibly throughout the length of the lockdown."

Still, while some parents were happy with how the school handled the lockdown ("I am thankful our daughter and all the students were safe and the principal Allison Sylvestri, the administration and our sheriff's department showed us we are in their capable hands," writes Claire Sheehan to Patch), others were not so happy:

Ardith Kitto-Gutierrez: "... it was not handled correctly when you have a early bird PE class left in the pool and administration did not know this class was there. These kids were told to stay in the outside pool and to huddle to the middle of the school if a stranger approached the pool area. The kids felt like like were ducks in a barrel. This is not a example of a safe school lockdown!"

Kelly Stockman Bell: "...unsupervised children wandering around at the bottom of the high school hill while an armed criminal is on the loose is not safe."

Here is a letter from superintendent Roehrick updating the school community about their debriefing meeting Monday and how things will be handled differently in the future such as better communication with parents and establishing a location for parents, students, and staff to meet during a lockdown that occurs prior to the start of school:

To: Half Moon Bay High School Parents, Staff, and Community Members

Re: January 9, 2014 Lockdown of Half Moon Bay High School

Last Thursday, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department initiated a lockdown of the high school due to the pursuit of a dangerous suspect. The lockdown was put into place at 7:10 a.m. and rescinded at 7:45 a.m. The timing was far from ideal as we had students in session for zero period, as well as students and staff beginning to arrive for the start of the normal school day.

Our emergency plan was put into place quickly and our shelter in place protocol was put into action. The Sheriff’s Department formed a perimeter that included closing off the school near the top of Lewis Foster Drive. This prohibited vehicles from entering or exiting the campus. Students and staff at the high school should be commended for their actions last week. Students were very responsible, both those on the campus and those unable to gain access. Staff members on campus kept students safe and several not yet on campus stayed with students at the bottom of the hill.

This morning, our administrative team, including Principal Allison Silvestri, debriefed the event along with several representatives from the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department. The deputies present stated the school handled the situation very well. While our response to the lockdown was swift and effective, we identified some areas for improvement. One oversight included our not having identified a meeting location for parents, students, and staff to meet during a lockdown that occurs prior to the start of school. Another area to address is to have in place a means to communicate to students and families relevant information in a more timely manner.

Our next step is to have both our district-wide and individual school safety committees review our protocols for such an emergency that would occur in the timeframe of just before or just after the school day. In addition, we need to identify the best way to communicate with our off-campus community during a lockdown. In doing so, we need to understand that our priority is to ensure the safety of everybody on campus. In a sense, we were fortunate for the lockdown in that it clearly revealed our need for deeper planning. Our emergency plans follow the county-wide template developed along with the Sheriff’s Department. They too learned from last Thursday’s event as the protocol focuses on what to do assuming everybody is on campus and under our supervision. As we found out, that is not always going to be the case.

I invite anyone involved in the lockdown to share their experience to add to our planning. Sharing what went right, and where we need to improve, will increase our ability to ensure everyone’s safety. Please feel free to contact me and I will be happy to meet with you.


Tony Roehrick, Ed.D. Superintendent


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