School lockouts: What are your parental rights?

By  | 

STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAW) -- If you want to take your student out of school during a lockout or lockdown, do you have the right to do so as a parent? It is a question a Stevens Point parent asked after the Stevens Point Area School District went on lockout Friday because of a possible threat. The threat was found not credible.

Stevens Point Area School District superintendent talks about decision not to allow parents to pick up students during Friday's school lockout.

The district said they only had a few parents asked to take their student out of school during that lockout, but NewsChannel 7 looked to answer the question: Does the school's duty to keep students and staff safe supersede the right of the parent to take their student home for the same reason?

The short answer is schools trump parents.

"I lose sleep on this. I literally lose sleep, my colleagues, we lose sleep on this," Stevens Point Area School District Superintendent Craig Gerlach said. He explained the biggest issue he deals with in his job is school safety.

Friday, a SnapChat that was later determined to be from North Carolina, surfaced in Stevens Point, but Gerlach said it looked like it could have been a possible threat from a student at SPASH.

"The student that was identified was not at school and we didn't know where that student was, so that heightened the concern," he said.

The student was found not to be involved, but because they did not know, they put all of the schools on lockout, meaning no one was allowed in or out of the buildings, even parents.

"Parents can come into school at any particular time and pick their children up; we don't control that unless there's an emergency that's been identified by both the school and the police department," Gerlach stated, "and it was that situation."

The district and individual schools are required by law to have a plan that they must submit to the Department of Justice. The DOJ has some recommendations, which Gerlach said they follow.

"If we have parents that come to school, what numbers are we looking at? Are we talking one, two, five, 10, 15? You can imagine the potential chaos," Gerlach said. "As soon as we open those doors when there's a potential threat and we don't know where that threat is, you open the door and you expose potential danger to everybody in the building. We don't know if there's someone outside waiting for that to happen."

The DOJ's Office of School Safety Director Kristen Devitt told NewsChannel 7 in these situations, there can be legal ramifications for schools.

"Should a school district open the doors to a parent to allow them in or allow a child out and an attack were carried out because of that. They would be opening themselves up to liability," she said.

She explained the district could be held liable for knowing about a threat and not taking the proper precautions, or for not keeping the school grounds safe for students and staff there.

"I am a parent," Gerlach began. "I can understand why parents want to get there and they want to get their kids out of that building. That said, this protocol likely isn't going to change."

He said they are always learning from these type of incidents and one thing they want to improve is communication with parents. Devitt recommends parents to follow the information provided by the school or first responders, not what they hear on social media, for the most reliable information for what is happening and how to reunite with their student if necessary.