Superintendent Message Regarding 11/8 Winnetka Campus Lockdown

Dear New Trier Families,

I first want to say how sorry I am that our school, our staff, but most importantly, your children had to experience a campus lockdown today. I also recognize how difficult this was for many of you. I know this email is long, but I think it is important to fully inform parents and families. Below, I share more information about the events of today and then provide next steps toward ensuring this does not happen again.

The lockdown alarm was activated inadvertently by a staff member. The employee mistook the emergency activation system with the system we use to exit through certain doors. I assure you that the two systems look very different, are placed significant distance apart, and are in locations recommended by our security consultants.

The lockdown occurred during a passing period, and our students and staff did a tremendous job following the plan we have practiced. Our school resource officer, a Winnetka police officer who is assigned to be on campus during the school day, immediately went into the hallways to assess if there was any danger in the school and, if so, where it was. Other Winnetka Police officers were onsite within three minutes of the alarm.

Twelve minutes into the lockdown, the Winnetka Police gave the school an all clear message, and our Principal announced over the PA that the lockdown was lifted, that everyone was safe, and that they should stay in place for the time being. Five minutes later, we announced that the lockdown was over and students who had not made it to their 8th period class should go to that classroom, and other students should go to the library or cafeteria, where there would be staff members to talk to if needed.

Three minutes after that, we sent a text message and email to families announcing that the lockdown was activated in error: "The Winnetka Campus was in lockdown. It was activated in error. More details to follow. All students are safe. Police have verified the campus is safe." After that our staff was talking with students in classrooms, hallways, and offices to see how they were feeling and what they needed.

The events of today were very scary, and every child will react a little differently. I am proud of their response under such significant stress, and I know some of them may continue to reflect on these events over the weekend and beyond. Encourage them to talk about it with you, but recognize they might prefer to talk about it with friends. Validate their feelings and emphasize the things they did well - our students acted quickly and did what they were supposed to do to keep themselves and their classmates safe. Our advisers and social work department will support students when they come back to school on Monday.

Finally, let me tell you about next steps for the school. While many parts of the lockdown went well, we know we have improvements to make. The administration debriefed the timeline and events with the Winnetka Police Department this afternoon, and we will be meeting for a more thorough debrief early next week. Our top priority is to ensure that we never have another accidental lockdown activation. We will review protocols and systems with both the police and our security experts. We are also gathering information from students and staff about places where the PA announcements could not be heard and doors could not be locked, among a number of other items.

In addition, we will be reviewing our communication protocols. We know that many parents heard from their children or others before hearing communication from the school. At the beginning of a lockdown, our primary concern is moving students and staff to safety. The administration is actively coordinating with police - it is important that we get them the information they need and follow their direction. We are committed to communicating with parents accurately and as quickly as possible and will work with the police department to review our protocols and will share those protocols with you in the near future.

Again, I am sorry that your student had to experience these events, but I am proud of their response and am also proud of the actions and care our staff took with students.

Paul Sally
Superintendent, New Trier High School District 203