PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — The top cop in the School District of Palm Beach County admits that certain Code Red lockdowns could have been handled differently.
It comes as the Palm Beach County School Board on Wednesday approved new rules that require classroom doors to be locked during classes and set guidelines for using mobile panic buttons all school district employees now have.
The board also discussed looking into metal detectors as another way to enhance school security.
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Frantic, scared parents swarmed Berkshire Elementary School on Aug. 15 in the second week of the school year after a Code Red lockdown was called at dismissal because of law enforcement activity in the area.
"Seeing the chaos ensue and parents rushing the gates and jumping the gates, that whole visual was terrifying," parent Marissa Haser said.
Haser's third grade daughter was inside the school at the time.
"My daughter came out crying," Haser said. "She still talks about it every now and then. I think it just changed our perspective on certain views. We ended up getting her a cell phone because she didn't have one at the time."
Records show the Berkshire Elementary School incident was one of at least 12 Code Red lockdowns in the School District of Palm Beach County during the first four months of the school year.
The majority of those lockdowns were for police activity off campus.
"Does it appear the Code Red terminology has been used in situations where it wasn't necessary over the past couple of months?" WPTV education reporter Stephanie Susskind asked school district Police Chief Sarah Mooney.
"There are occasions where that happens," Mooney answered. "And again, that's part of the messaging we're trying to get out. We would rather not put everyone into a panic mode if it's not necessary. And it's kind of like the boy who cried wolf. You don't want to do that, either. We don't want our first responders driving with their lights and sirens, coming to a campus that really has something minor going on."
So what's the difference?
Mooney said a Code Red lockdown is for an imminent threat on a school campus. Learning stops and everyone goes to their safe place.
A Code Yellow is for off campus law enforcement activity. The school campus is still locked down, but learning and classroom activities continue.
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"It's important for everybody to understand what the different procedure is," Mooney said. "What are the kids doing during a Code Red versus a Code Yellow? Because I think most of the people who call in a Code Red erroneously, they don't know the gravity of what that does to the campus itself and how severe it is."
Mooney called it a learning curve with outside law enforcement agencies and employees that has been improving since the school year started.
Those agencies can call for a lockdown, and so can any school district employee with a new panic button they all have with their ID badges.
"We don't have kids in that situation where they are hiding in a corner somewhere, just waiting for something bad to happen," Mooney said. "It's just an extra security measure so that, 99% of the time, the type of lockdown or lockout that we're going to have is that Code Yellow."
"I think an extreme full Code Red lockdown was probably a little much," Haser said of the Berkshire Elementary School incident in August.
Haser is glad to see the attention on this issue and hopes to not experience it again.
"I learned from it," Haser said. "And being a little more prepared and hope it wouldn't be a true active situation on campus."
As for calling Code Red lockdowns, Mooney said the district has put together informational videos for other law enforcement agencies to show them the differences between the codes and make sure the proper messaging is going out.
"We're trying to get the message out that the Code Red is meant for imminent issues," Mooney said. "If we get the training and the messaging correct on the front end, then the incidents of calling a Code Red when it's not necessary are going to reduce without doing much more."