DOE letter reiterates steps taken to ensure Hawaii schools are safe

  • CALEB JONES/Associated Press

    A Honolulu police officer stands on the campus of Kapolei Middle School on Friday after a lockdown at the Oahu school was lifted. State Department of Education spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said school officials were notified of a threat Thursday night and reported it to police. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported someone posted on social media that they planned to “shoot up” the middle school Friday morning.

The state Department of Education is encouraging parents to discuss with their children “the seriousness” of school safety threats in the wake of Wednesday’s shooting at a Florida high school.

The DOE will send a letter home with Hawaii Island students Tuesday that reminds parents that all schools are required to create and update a safety plan and conduct five emergency preparedness drills per year, which include lockdown exercises.

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Big Island schools posted the letter online Friday, which was a no-school “Institute Day” for those schools. Monday is Presidents Day, which is a DOE holiday.

“Across the country, school districts are dealing with rumors or threats against school safety that is spread via social media … (the DOE) is no exception,” says the letter, signed by Superintendent Christina Kishimoto. “When a school administrator becomes aware of a threat, police are immediately notified and an investigation is launched.”

The department also partners with county police departments to conduct active-shooter drills, the letter says. The DOE considers terroristic threats to be Class A student conduct offenses, which can result in penalties ranging from detention to dismissal and the possibility of arrest and criminal charges.

Seventeen people were killed in the school shooting Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. The shooting reignited a national debate surrounding school safety and gun control.

Kapolei Middle School in Kapolei, Oahu, began classes Friday in lockdown after a shooting threat made on social media. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported the threat was posted on Instagram by someone who said they planned to “shoot up” the school at 8:30 a.m. that morning.

School officials were notified about the threat Thursday night and reported it to police. Parents also were told before school started Friday there would be increased security and police presence on the campus.

The school’s principal announced an all-clear at about 9:15 a.m. Friday. According to a letter to parents, that’s when police found there was no imminent threat to campus.

State lawmakers are considering a school safety bill this year that would require interior locks and intercom systems be installed on all classroom doors.

The measure, filed as Senate Bill 2576, was introduced before Wednesday’s shooting. It would mandate each school have an emergency management plan updated annually and require emergency preparedness training for teachers and staff. It also would require emergency practice drills at every school, some that would need to occur during “inopportune times of the school day.”

Kishimoto said in written testimony that the DOE supports the measure’s intent but requests it be deferred. She said the DOE already is conducting “vulnerability assessments, surveying schools and determining need” and “the bill is not needed at this time.”

The measure passed a second reading Thursday and was referred to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.