Clear77° WeatherClear77° Weather

School lockdown drags on for most of a week

Parents wait to pick up their children at Town and Country Elementary School Wednesday next to the cafeteria. The school has been on a modified lockdown for the better part of a week because a father was accused of threats against a student.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Parents wait to pick up their children at Town and Country Elementary School Wednesday next to the cafeteria. The school has been on a modified lockdown for the better part of a week because a father was accused of threats against a student.

TAMPA — For much of the last week, school officials restricted the outside activities of nearly 500 students at Town and Country Elementary. They locked the doors to classrooms. They dismissed children one by one at the end of the day.

The reason?

A threat against one student at the school.

School officials say they always respond with an abundance of caution to such threats, which happen maybe once a month or less. But they say it's unusual for a situation to drag out for so long.

The immediate danger was resolved Wednesday afternoon, when the father accused of threatening a child attending the school was arrested.

The week's drama, in which students had no outside physical education or playtime for several days, offers a window into the considerations involved in keeping schools safe. Should a threat against one child become an inconvenience to all? Or is it a necessary safeguard?

"Each and every case, and each and every threat, is assessed individually," said David Friedberg, chief of security for Hillsborough schools. "There is no cookie-cutter approach other than what we call a 'modified lockdown' or a 'lockdown.' "

School officials called for a modified lockdown at Town and Country Elementary April 16 after the school received an alarming report from a student's mother. She said the student's father was threatening to harm the child.

In modified lockdowns, outside activities are restricted and the campus is secured. But it isn't necessarily a major disruption, Friedberg said.

"Lunch still occurs. Classroom instruction still occurs. I'm not sure what the inconvenience is," he said. "I think it's the term being used."

Parents divided

But parents at Town and Country have differing views, after experiencing a modified lockdown for four of the past six school days. Liyah Rivera was bothered that her second-grade daughter didn't get to go outside and play.

"I understand it's the child's safety, but it's still not right," she said. "Our children come here to go to school, not to be locked up like animals."

Principal Jenilda Gallo notified parents about what was going on through mass phone calls and a group e-mail.

She said most parents were glad the measures had been taken.

"I think the school has actually done an awesome job," said Nancy Gonsalves, the school's PTA president. "People say it's a lot of work for one child, but it's also a lot of work to move a child."

In these scenarios, removing the child is considered early on, said Friedberg, who would not discuss the specifics of this case. But it's not always a solution. For example, he said the person making the threat may not know the child is no longer there.

"Even if we remove the individual who has been targeted, there's still a potential threat to the people on the campus," he said.

In his view, a modified lockdown allows a fairly normal school day. Town and Country Elementary eased into a "controlled access" mode by Wednesday. Students were allowed outside again, but the school took extra precautions about visitors.

Both contrast sharply with a full lockdown, which was briefly in place Tuesday after the school heard there had been a shooting in the neighborhood. In that scenario, no movement takes place on campus, and protection takes precedence over classroom instruction.

The fine distinctions can get lost on students and parents, who frequently hear about lockdowns at schools. Somewhere in the county, a campus is on modified lockdown three to four times a week, Friedberg said.

Stalking complaint

In the Town and Country case, school officials checked frequently with law enforcement. Friedberg got a call Wednesday shortly after the father was arrested in Collier County.

David Chavez, 37, of Naples was arrested on a warrant from Hillsborough County for two counts of aggravated stalking.

Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway said the warrants stemmed from a 911 call deputies received Tuesday from a woman who said Chavez followed her and their child from home to school, making violent threats against them.

Callaway also said the woman had obtained a domestic violence injunction against Chavez.

According to Florida criminal reports, Chavez has been arrested nine other times since 1996. His record includes multiple charges of stalking.

While the arrests appeared to lift the threat at Town and Country Elementary, officials aren't just going back to the way they used to do things.

Before the lockout, the school dismissed children by seating them along the school's long, covered sidewalk. Staff members would direct them into the correct cars.

Last week, the students were required to wait instead in the cafeteria. Each child was summoned to the cafeteria's double doors as his or her car approached.

The change was so popular, the school is considering making it permanent.

Parents "feel like the children are safer behind closed doors rather than sitting out on the sidewalk," said Gallo, the principal.

Rebecca Catalanello contributed to this report. Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

School lockdown drags on for most of a week 04/23/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 24, 2008 11:40am]

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...