Durango School District 9-R staff trains and cross-trains for emergencies, and students participate in numerous drills throughout the school year. But what is a parent’s role in scenarios ranging from school bus accidents to lockdowns?
“We realized we need to teach parents how reunification works and engage them so they can play their part,” Durango School District 9-R spokeswoman Julie Popp said after the bus rollover in November.
Between the rollover and the water main breaks affecting Park Elementary and Miller Middle schools since winter began, the district has already had a few incidents requiring emergency communications with parents this school year.
“When we debriefed after the rollover, we got a lot of positive feedback,” Popp said, “about many things that went right, and what lessons we learned. Fortunately, just a few parents came out to the scene, but we also had parents who came to Mercy (Regional Medical Center) to pick up their children who didn’t have IDs. So we saw a few areas where we could improve.”
Parents staying away from the scene is critical for first responders, said Colorado State Patrol Capt. Adrian Driscoll.
“We’re trying to use more social media like Facebook and Twitter to get information out faster,” he said. “For example, Durango Fire (Protection District) was tweeting out the reunification site. The rollover happened on a two-lane county road, and if parents come to that kind of scene, it bogs up our whole process.”
It can be even worse than that, said Chief Hal Doughty of the Durango Fire Protection District.
“The reality is that we as first responders are trying to account for everyone who’s supposed to be on the bus or at the scene,” he said. “Parents who show up and take it upon themselves to grab their kid before we’ve secured the scene make it difficult for us to provide the security for their kids they want us to provide. We’ve got the responsibility to make sure their kids are not hurt and are going home with the right people.”
Why is identification so important?
“Before, we just let kids walk home,” said Kathy Morris, the safety coordinator with the San Juan Board of Cooperative Services, who works on safety issues with nine school districts in Southwest Colorado. “Back in the day, we didn’t have the noncustodial issues we have now. And now there are a lot more people on the planet and in our communities, and we don’t have the family structure we used to.”
What helped during the reunification at Mercy after the bus rollover was having both the principal and assistant principal on hand to help, because they recognized parents who arrived without proper identification, Driscoll said.
“Because obviously, we’re not going to release a child if we don’t know the person,” he said. “One thing we did learn is we need to let parents know as soon as possible their child is OK, whether it’s a text or call. But we know they won’t believe it until they see it. Everything else feeds from that.”
Another key element for parents, said Pam Glasco, who participated in a mass casualty exercise in 2014, is to make sure their cellphone is signed up with 9-R so they will get emergency texts from the district.
“My advice to parents if they’re in a situation like this is to stay calm,” she said. “The parents who were supposed to overreact, who got emotional and passionate, didn’t help anybody in the room. We all have these feelings, but we have to check it and watch how we treat our fellow human beings.”
District 9-R is issuing a new instruction sheet for parents and a reunification card, Popp said, and parents should fill a card out for each child attending a district school.
“Parents should just fill that out and keep it in their glove box,” she said. “It will speed up reunification if they ever have to use it. And of course, we hope they don’t.”