A parent’s worst nightmare appeared to be unfolding at Everett High School (EHS) on January 26 when an order for a lockdown was issued by police while almost 2,200 students were still in the building.
That is what School Committee members heard on Monday night from numerous parents and students as they testified during the public comment period of the meeting.
One mother expressed concern about “not knowing what was going on,” and wanted to know what was being done to keep their children safe.
Ella Schultz, a student at EHS said that she was “worried for the safety of younger students and peers,” as the crisis dragged on.
Another student told of receiving texts from students still inside the building seeking information about the shelter-in-place and lockdown orders.
One parent noted the lax monitoring of the outside doors being accessed, and demanded that school officials “do something.”
Another parent noted, “The students had to walk home without coats.”
The amount of disinformation that many parents who were outside the school and students were receiving only compounded the day’s events, adding to their fear and anxiety
After almost two weeks since the event took place, Police Chief Steven Mazzie and School Resource Officer (SRO) Steve Ramunno appeared before the School Committee to give a timeline of the events of that day.
Mazzie said that the comments from parents at the meeting were “understandable” with “rumors running wild.”
He said that the School Department had received a call from someone using the internet about driving around and trying to “get back at a student,” and later in the conversation he said that he was “armed.”
That is when the order to shelter-in-place was given. After multiple calls, the person then said that he was in the high school, and that triggered the lockdown.
Mazzie noted that with officers around the perimeter of the school, the two SRO officers started a floor-by-floor search of the building. After the police had determined that the individual was not in the building, an order for “a controlled dismissal was issued.” He also noted that outside EHS, there were members of the police, fire, parents, and media.
He clarified some information that had been circulating, most notably the rumor that a SWAT team was in the building, which was blatantly false. He classified the investigation as still ongoing with “nobody arrested, no weapons seized, and no one charged.”
Mazzie said that they are working on identifying the internet phone call source.
Committee members had many questions and suggestions for Mazzie. They wondered if there should be more School Resource Officers and Mazzie said he will look into it.
However, said Mazzie, “The goal of the SRO is to build relationships. We do not want to put kids into the court system.”
Mazzie stated that a big part of the problem with security in the schools is that students are “wearing hoodies, not carrying school ID tags, and wearing face masks.” He noted that another training session on the protocols to follow for this type of incident will be held on February 16 at EHS.
Before the incident, Mazzie noted that there was a fight during a basketball game, but no problem afterwards. He went on to say that EHS was built to hold 1,700 students, but now it is enrolling more than 2,200 students. He further stated that, “Everett students are not the problem, outside students are causing the issues.”
This statement led some School Committee members to wonder if some students are skirting the residency requirements and whether this needs to be investigated.
Superintendent Priya Tahiliani told of the various security measures that have been undertaken in the last few months and promised new measures.
Some of the safety measures noted by Tahiliani have been as follows: The implementation of a Critical Incident Response Plan at EHS; hiring a head of security; making some personnel changes; purchasing 38 additional cameras in November, though 21 still need to be installed; repairing broken cameras in the school’s parking areas; adjusting camera angles; updating staff duties to cover high-need areas; holding an assembly at EHS on safety measures; and the purchase of a card access system for all buildings by staff.
Committee members wondered if more hall monitors should be added. Tahiliani noted that many positions are not able to be filled because of the tight job market.
“Our world has changed and not for the better,” noted committee member at large Cynthia Sarnie.
Both Tahliani and Dave O’Connor, the Public Relations Manager for the Everett schools, were praised for their communication efforts in getting the facts out to the public and to School Committee members.
Before moving on, committee members were told that more seminars are planned for parents and staff on the Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate (ALICE) program that is established for incidents that are similar to what happened on Jan. 26. The increase in seminars is necessary because many safety procedures and protocols have been curtailed during COVID, many new teachers and parents are not familiar with the procedures, and the Everett schools’ workforce is understaffed because of the tight job market.
“We were lucky. This was almost like a drill. We found out that yes, this can happen in Everett,” Ward 1 committee member Millie Cardillo told her colleagues.