Marshall Teachers, Parents Angry Over Code Red Response

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A group of teachers and parents from Marshall School presented a united front in confronting the South Orange Maplewood Board of Education over a code red activation that went awry earlier this month.

Marshall School, located in South Orange, serves children from kindergarten through second grade from Maplewood and South Orange.

According to a letter read by second grade Marshall teacher Bebe Greenberg (see video above): On Friday, June 6, at 11:40 a.m. a code red alarm was accidentally activated, sending teachers, administrators and students into a set of protocols.

Code red is activated in the district “in the event of an armed threat to a building,” Greenberg read.

She noted that this activation sent everyone in the school into a lockdown that was complicated by the fact that the alert took place during lunch and recess period with children on the playground and in the lunchroom, separated from teachers. When there was no police response, a teacher dialed the South Orange police via 9-1-1 on her mobile. When police arrived, Greenberg read, they seemed unaware of the protocols for  a code red lockdown, whether real or accidental.

As it turned out, Greenberg noted, “[T]he emergency lockdown button was NOT connected to the South Orange Police Department and did not lock the doors from the outside as we had been told. We have since learned that despite the fact that the funds had been budgeted for the schools to be connected to the police departments, Bill Kyle and Cheryl Schneider were aware that this had not been done.”

Greenberg noted that the button remains unconnected from the police department and no timetable for its connection has been revealed.

Before the public speaking segment, Superintendent Brian Osborne made an attempt to ameliorate the situation by addressing the code red incident in his district report. Osborne called the incident “unacceptable.” He characterized the incident as a “miscommunication” about the call button and assured parents and teachers that the central administration is “aggressively following up and working with the South Orange police.”

South Orange Police Chief James M. Chelel was not present at the meeting. (The Village Green is reaching out to Chelel for comment.)

A number of other parents and teachers from Marshall also spoke. Teacher Jennifer Scates thanked Board of Education President Beth Daugherty for a letter she sent in response to the teachers’ letter but took umbrage at language in the letter: Daugherty had used the word “misunderstanding” regarding the fact that the call button is not hooked up. Scates also lamented that there was still no date set for connecting the button to the police.

“We were hoping for a more informative response,” said Scates.

District parent Susan Parker was more emotional, calling the use of the word “misunderstanding” by Daugherty “dismissive.”

“I want to know the protocols. I want to know the procedures. I want to know when that damn button is going to be hooked up!” Parker nearly shouted as she rose from her chair to a round of shouts and applause from parents and teachers.

Another parent asked for more training for lunch aides and better protocols for the lunch room where his first grader was left with a group of crying peers for 45 minutes.

Later Daugherty sought to explain her use of words: “It was not meant to be dismissive.” She noted that she is a parent of children in the district and that everyone on the board and in the administration was “very upset” about the incident.

Daugherty explained that the many security safeguards being put into place throughout the district — including security doors, wiring to lock them, and the buttons — were very “complex” and that the district is trying to escalate the process as quickly as possible. None of the schools in the district currently have connected call buttons.

Daugherty agreed with the need for an interim protocol until the buttons are connected. She said that the need for that protocol has been addressed and now must be communicated.

“Everybody was caught off guard,” Daugherty said.

She added, “We hear you loud and clear and will follow up even more aggressively now.”

Marshall teachers and parents seemed to be further agitated by Daugherty’s remarks, frequently calling out during her response demanding a completion date for the button connection.

Board of Education member Johanna Wright called the breach “unconscionable” and said, “We shouldn’t leave tonight without an answer as to when this work will begin.”

Board of Education member Madhu Pai came to Daugherty’s defense, noting that she is a Marshall parent and that she helped draft Daugherty’s letter. Pai said that the purpose of the letter was “for us to come clean that the process is broken.”

She added, “Someone will be held accountable.”

Update: The Village Green spoke with South Orange Police Chief Jim Chelel about the accidental code red activation on June 6 at Marshall School and the subsequent police response. Read Chelel’s response here.

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