District 51 says Orchard Ave response better than past lockdowns

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - An incident at Rite-Aid put nearby Orchard Avenue Elementary School on lockdown for several hours Tuesday afternoon. Learning from past experiences, School District 51 says it's response Tuesday was better.

As the day began to wind down for the students of Orchard Avenue Elementary, things were picking up fast for police just a few blocks away.

"I was finishing my word study," says Devin, a third grade student at Orchard Avenue Elementary. "Then they called it and I opened the door and hustled to where I was supposed to go."

"Anytime law enforcement says go into a lockdown, that's the first thing that we do," says Jeff Kirtland, spokesperson for School District 51.

While the students waited in their classrooms, "I knew that I was safe with my teacher," says Devin. School administrators were putting their plans into place. "Timing is an issue," says Kirtland. "At the end of the day it's really problematic for us when there's a situation that doesn't allow us to give fair notice and call every parent."

Officials say all doors into the school were immediately locked and police set up a perimeter around the school. Because there was no threat inside the building, they changed the school's status from lockdown to "shelter in place," giving school staff and students a little more room to breathe.

"That allows for more movement throughout the school building as opposed to students being locked in their classrooms," says Kirtland.

At the same time, administrators were updating the School District's Web site, using Parent Bridge to send out emails, and calling some parents to let them know what was going on.

"Ideally if we had enough time, we'd be able to call every parent let them know what the situation was and how we're responding to it," says Kirtland. "But typically we can't do that in a response."

With the school perimeter secured officials say they felt comfortable letting bus riders get on their buses and go home like normal. But because police were still looking for a suspect when school ended, they made walkers and riders wait inside for their parents to pick them up.

"It's important that we go through that to ensure that there's a safe connection between parents and students," says Kirtland.

Parents stood in line outside the school for hours, as staff members checked each of their IDs, then had a teacher personally escort their sons and daughters to them in the school lobby.

"It's been a long time but I'm very glad to have her back," says Laegan McGee, Devin's grandmother.

Officials admit there will always be something during an incident like this that doesn't go perfectly. "The inconvenience to parents and traffic is always something that we have to manage the best that we can," says Kirtland.

But they say in this case, decisions were made faster and information was put out quicker than in times past. "I think the school handled it beautifully," says McGee.

School officials say it's important that parents give them their most up-to-date contact information so they can be reached during emergency situations.

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