SAISD to improve parent communication after chaos during Jefferson High School lockdown

Text alerts, protocol explanations could keep parents calm in future situations

It was a day of reflection and assessment for the Jefferson High School community on Wednesday after chaos broke out during a campus lockdown a day earlier.

SAN ANTONIO – It was a day of reflection and assessment for the Jefferson High School community on Wednesday after chaos broke out during a campus lockdown a day earlier.

A student called San Antonio police around 1 p.m. Tuesday, reporting there was a fight at the school and possibly a gun.

SAISD and SAPD officers flooded the school and placed it on lockdown.

After a full sweep, it was confirmed there was no shooting and no weapon found on campus.

“We just thought it was a drill, honestly, and then things started escalating. We heard cop car sirens. We heard the choppers above,” said Sara Estrada, a senior at Jefferson High School.

Sarah’s younger sister Kaitlyn was locked into a classroom on the other side of the school.

“They just grabbed all the children and put them at the back, turned off the lights and stuff,” Kaitlyn said. “They said, ‘Hey, there’s going to be police officers coming around and just be calm and stuff.’”

The girls said they can’t speak for everyone, but the students and teachers around them remained calm, even though it did take a while to clear the whole campus.

“I felt comfort that there were actually police officers there and like, I wasn’t alone. I knew that it was necessary. They had to search the building like I get that, and I respect that,” Kaitlyn said.

However, outside the school was chaos.

On the heels of officer inaction at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, many parents let fear take over, rushing the building and screaming for their kids to be let out.

One man punched out a window and was badly bleeding. Officers took him away to wrap a tourniquet and tend to his injuries.

Photos of the blood outside the school started a false rumor that there was in fact a shooting, which added to the panic.

During the chaos, KSAT crews at the scene spoke to Sarah and Kaitlyn’s parents Gene and Diana Estrada. They were standing in line listening to orders from police, waiting to get their kids.

Just because they were following directions didn’t mean they weren’t shaken and emotional.

“I was worried about my daughters,” Gene said.

It was 1:30 p.m. when KSAT’s crew met Gene and Diana, and they said they had not received notice from the school district. They rushed to the campus after their daughter Sarah called to say she was in lockdown.

At the scene, SAISD Communications Director Laura Short said information had been sent out.

“A phone call first, followed by a, an email message. In the future, a text message will go out as well for those that we have phone numbers on record,” Short said.

“I didn’t get word from the school until like about an hour and a half. And it was about 2:45, 3:00 when I got that,” Gene said.

His wife Diana said it was that evening when she received the email describing what had happened.

Gene said he likes the idea of a more immediate text alert.

“There has to be a specific, different notification that this is an emergency. A red flag, not just any regular text,” he said.

In a letter released Wednesday, SAISD Superintendent Jaime Aquino said in part:

“We empathize with all of you... It is important to know... when a school is locked down, students and staff cannot be released until officers determine that the threat has been resolved, give clearance, and lift the lockdown. In the future, we will deploy district staff to the campus grounds to keep families on the scene informed of what is happening and the status of the reunification process.”

At the scene on Tuesday, Aquino said he understood why the lengthy lockdown procedure made parents anxious.

He also said, “Obviously, it would have helped that if we had bullhorns with the team that was dispatched from central office.”

“I think it’s very important they keep us informed about how they’re going to do the procedures,” Gene said.

Sarah said she agrees with the safety protocol her school has set in place.

“I can’t just run out there if there’s a shooter outside. They have to understand that. If there was a shooting or active shooting, and a parent got into the school to go get their kid, how is the teacher going to know that’s not the shooter?” Sarah said.

“Emotions took the best of everyone, and that’s understandable. Other than that, the entire protocols were followed. They were followed to a tee and it worked the way it supposed to,” said SAISD Police Chief Johnny Reyes Jr.

Now that Gene has had time to process everything, he said, “I’m comforted. I really am.”

He’s relieved knowing safety protocols were followed, more communication is expected, and most importantly that his daughters are safe.

SAISD is asking parents and caregivers to make sure their contact information is up to date in the Frontline Parent Portal, so they are sure to receive all notices.

Superintendent Aquino also encouraged the community to refer to the Aug. 11 safety town hall for additional details about school safety protocols.

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About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.