Why are some Palm Beach County schools not locked down for weapons?

Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 5:25 PM EDT
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WFLX has heard from several concerned Palm Beach County parents and school employees about why their schools were not put on lockdown when weapons were discovered on campus.

In looking closer at recent school lockdowns across the county, WFLX education reporter Stephanie Susskind discovered inconsistencies with when campuses are locked down for suspected weapons.

"They found a gun on campus. There was no threat, so that was the positive. But it was a loaded weapon," Palm Beach Gardens parent Mandy Ratcliff said. "It was found without incident. And to my knowledge, the school wasn't even placed on lockdown."

Ratcliff worried when her daughter's school wasn't locked down when a student was found with a loaded gun at Palm Beach Gardens Community High School in February.

"It's scary to think of a weapon on campus," Ratcliff said. "And whether there was a threat or not, it could have accidently been fired. Something could have happened to a student, a teacher, a staff member, anyone there."

So WFLX took Ratcliff’s concerns to school district Police Chief Sarah Mooney.

"If it is something that could be a potential threat that could be mitigated very quickly, we're not necessarily going to lockdown a campus, because we want to be as least disruptive to the school day as possible, especially if we know the threat is potentially contained," Mooney said.

"If you receive a tip that a student has a gun in their backpack and it's referring to a specific student, that's a situation where you may not need a lockdown?" Susskind asked Mooney.

"Correct," Mooney replied. "It would give us the opportunity, we want to do the little mini investigation on the front end. If there is not an imminent threat, not somebody currently in progress of threatening somebody, it's flexible, it's fluid. So based on the information we have, if we have a specific name, the first thing we're going to do is find out where that kid is, track him down, and go address that kid right then and there."


Recent lockdowns show that flexibility on Palm Beach County school campuses.

In February, Lake Worth Community High School was on a precautionary lockdown while school police investigated a student with a knife on campus.

Later that month at John I. Leonard High School, there was no lockdown when a student was reported with a loaded gun.

The principal told parents that "administrators quickly located and isolated the student named in the report and seized the weapon. We held the bell for less than one minute to investigate the report and locate the student."

In that case specifically and several others, students reported tips through the Fortify Florida app, which was created after the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. When you have the app, you can submit a tip directly to law enforcement based on your school, and school leaders said it's working.

"We have to rely on our students and the tips we get, and that's been very successful so far in the way we mitigate those threats when they come in," Mooney said.

Ratcliff said she wants to get more involved in the school safety conversation.

"I know they have a process for things and they can't lock the school down every time and they are kids and there is so much going on, but maybe if they explained to the parents the protocol and the process, we would know what to expect when something does happen," Ratcliff said.

A conversation that will continue to evolve.

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