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Parents angry that Countryside High did not contact them about ramped-up security

COUNTRYSIDE — When Axhira Sullivan's 15-year-old son told her that many of his classmates were planning to skip school Tuesday because of the anniversary of the Columbine school massacre, the Clearwater mother thought her son was fishing for a day off.

"If there was cause for alarm, the school would contact me," she told him.

Sullivan said she was shocked to see a news report around 7 a.m. Tuesday about additional security measures planned this week at Countryside High School in response to a threat made by a former student in 2007.

"I'm very upset with Countryside High School," said Sullivan. "I think it was completely negligent on their behalf."

Rumors swirled at the school Monday that police were concerned the former student might carry out threats he previously posted on the Internet.

The former student, who no longer attends a Pinellas public school, threatened then to harm some of his classmates on April 20, 2010, the 11th anniversary of the Colorado high school mass shooting, said Clearwater police spokeswoman Beth Watts.

Schools spokeswoman Andrea Zahn said parents were not notified Monday because it was strictly "precautionary" and no new threat had been made.

"Based on the information we had and the lack of any threat, we were confident that the necessary precautions were put in place and that Countryside was a safe learning environment," Zahn said.

But Sullivan wasn't the only person dismayed that school officials didn't alert parents about the situation on Monday.

Debra Kirkpatrick, whose daughter and son attend Countryside, said she was surprised school officials did not leave a recorded voicemail message, which is often used to notify parents of meetings, events, book sales and the like.

"They call us about PTA meetings … every stupid little thing," she said. "This is a serious situation, and we didn't even get a call for that."

Kirkpatrick's children went to school Tuesday, though her son came home early because there were so few students in his classes, Kirkpatrick said.

About 53 percent of Countryside's 2,209 students were absent Tuesday, Zahn said.

On Tuesday, the school had a "modified lockdown" during first period and additional police were on the campus again, Zahn said.

A recording by principal Gerald M. Schlereth was sent out to parents after the drill had ended.

"This morning we practiced a modified lockdown drill due to the anniversary of Columbine and a threat made by a former student three years ago," the message said. "To date, there have been no additional threats made by any students."

Zahn said early Tuesday afternoon that the district had received just "a few" calls from parents who were concerned that they weren't notified of the security measures sooner.

Sullivan was one of them.

She was "furious" that she wasn't given the opportunity to decide for herself whether to send her son to school or keep him out Tuesday.

"They're the school. We are the parents," Sullivan said. "We're the ones who need to determine (our children's) safety, not them."

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

In other news

Seminole High student texted on Columbine, deputies say

SEMINOLE — A Seminole High School student was interviewed by Pinellas deputies Monday night after he sent a text message to other students indicating there would be "an incident" at the school today, the 11th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre, a Pinellas County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman said.

The 15-year-old male student was not arrested. Information from the Sheriff's Office investigation will be referred to the State Attorney's Office, which will determine if any charges will be filed, said spokeswoman Marianne Pasha.

"It's my understanding the individual did admit he sent these messages and that he sent them to get attention," Pasha said.

The school was not locked down Tuesday, said Pinellas County Schools spokeswoman Andrea Zahn.

"The whole message was fabricated and untrue and at no time were staff and students in danger," Zahn said.

Sheriff's Office spokesman Tom Nestor said the message was "a complete hoax."

Rita Farlow, Times staff writer

Parents angry that Countryside High did not contact them about ramped-up security 04/20/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 11:21pm]

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