Parents and students have publicly criticized a high school in Florida for its handling of an active shooter drill that led to chaos, panic and confusion.
Students at Lake Brantley High School in the Orlando-area town of Altamonte Springs say that the unannounced drill on Thursday sparked disorder as people panicked over the potential of a real threat.
“It’s more than just protecting children from bullet holes,” parent Renee Storm told The Orlando Sentinel. “It’s protecting them from the anxiety and trauma they’re now experiencing.”
Michael Lawrence, a spokesman for Seminole County Public Schools, told HuffPost via email Saturday that two separate incidents on Thursday caused a series of circumstances he described as “a perfect storm of events.”
The day’s events started when the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, conducted an unannounced “code red” drill in conjunction with the school district shortly after 10:00 a.m. Thursday morning.
Both unannounced and announced “code red” drills have been conducted at all the district’s schools for years, Lawrence said.
Videos published online show students at Lake Brantley in a frenzied state inside the school’s cafeteria.
But Lake Brantley’s principal, Trent Daniel, had initially attributed some of the chaotic scenes captured in videos to incidents that occurred after the drill had been completed and the “code red” was lifted.
In a phone message to parents on Thursday evening, Daniel can be heard suggesting that the wave of panic in the school’s lunchroom was caused by a student’s social media post about an active shooter on campus, according to a video by local NBC affiliate WESH 2.
The social media post appears to be in reference to a screenshot shared online showing an automatic text message sent to teachers alerting them that an active shooter was reported on campus at 10:21 a.m.
“Active Shooter reported at Brantley / Building 1/ Building 2 and other buildings by B Shafer at 10:21:45. Initiate a Code Red Lockdown,” the message read, according to the Sentinel.
The message did not indicate that it was a drill, the Sentinel reported.
“There was a campus disruption caused by a social media post,” Daniel said, according to the WESH 2 audio. “The post indicated a possible threat to the campus.” She added that the social media post was being investigated as a “disciplinary matter.”
“We do not yet know how the students got the screen shot that only goes to staff and are currently investigating that further,” Lawrence wrote in the email.
But students had pointed to another incident that occurred during lunch hours later in the day that caused panic.
Lawrence confirmed to HuffPost that at some time after the drill, during lunchtime hours, an announcement was made over the loudspeaker saying that the earlier drill had been executed successfully.
However the announcement included the words “code red,” which is likely all some students heard in the noisy cafeteria, Lawrence said.
Indeed, one student told WESH 2 in a video interview that he remembers hearing “code red” over the loudspeaker.
“It’s a code red, that’s all it said ― that’s all I heard,” he said.
The lunchtime announcement apparently sent some students frantically running out the doors.
Parents who received distraught text messages from their children at school have expressed disappointment on social media over the school’s response time in informing parents that the “code red” alert was just a drill.
Lawrence told the Sentinel that Lake Brantley’s statement to parents informing them that there was not an emergency went out at least 30 minutes later than it should have.
He added that moving forward parents will be informed about future drills promptly.
“There’s absolutely going to be changes,” he said.
Colleen Eskins, the mother of a student at Lake Brantley, told BuzzFeed News she’s concerned about lasting effects from how these drills are conducted at schools.
“I understand that unfortunately we have to practice these drills for the safety of the kids,” she said. “I am concerned about the psychological repercussions when ‘active shooter’ and ‘not a drill’ are communicated.”
Lawrence told HuffPost that the district’s “best practice” is to have schools immediately contact parents to inform them when they conduct drills, but that on Thursday the message did not go out until approximately 11:19 a.m. He said the unannounced drill was otherwise held “as normal” with law enforcement.
“Unfortunately, the school’s administration thought they had sent a message to their families at the conclusion of the drill as they typically do, but the message did not go out,” he said. “Once families began calling local news media concerned if there was a drill or real incident, it was obvious the message about the event just being a drill obviously wasn’t sent.”
Lawrence noted that the district has also instructed all of its schools to not make such announcements during lunch hours, and to avoid using words “code red” over school intercom systems.
Bob Kealing, a spokesman for the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, confirmed to HuffPost that the sheriff’s office had left campus after it had completed the “code red” drill, as it has “many times before” in the district.
Kealing referred HuffPost to Daniel’s statements for further comment.
On Friday, Daniel issued a statement to parents.
“I have spent the day debriefing with all parties involved in yesterday’s events and I want to assure you that I’m committed to taking action based on lessons learned from those debriefings,” the principal said, according to the Sentinel.
This story has been updated throughout with comments from a school district spokesman.