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Parents seek answers in Verona-area school lockdowns

By Mary Jo Ola, mola@wisctv.com
Published On: May 03 2013 01:29:32 PM CDT
Updated On: May 04 2013 01:42:39 PM CDT

Channel3000.com

Parents waited outside some Verona schools to pick up their kids during a lockdown Thursday.

VERONA, Wis. -

The Verona School District is explaining its decision to put a hard lockdown in place during an FBI manhunt Thursday, and responding to critics of the district’s communication with parents.

A letter issued Friday by Superintendent Dean Gorrell states that the decision to lock students in classrooms and restrict access to bathrooms was based on information provided by law enforcement.

Paris Poe, 33, was wanted by the FBI and was the subject of a manhunt that ended Thursday evening when Poe was arrested on Madison’s east side. The manhunt started in Fitchburg at 11 a.m. and the search was conducted in Fitchburg, Verona and Madison’s southwest side.

Verona parent Tracy Grzybowski said she was asked to show identification when picking up her children.

"I got out of my car and asked some of the parents what was going on, that's when they said the school was on a hard lockdown," said Grzybowski.

At that point, Grzybowski checked her phone and saw she didn't get a call, email, or text about the lockdown from the district.

"I was furious.  I was furious, and I was confused," said Grzybowski.

Aaron Jai was picking up his two kids at Sugar Creek Elementary and didn't get any notice either, so he looked for information himself.

"I kept up on Facebook," said Jai.

Verona school officials said the hard lockdown was enacted because all the district’s schools are within 2 miles of the last sighting of Poe before he was arrested. Poe was considered armed and dangerous. The letter also said law enforcement was in the area with weapons drawn.

Gorrell told News 3 there were cases where students were required to urinate in buckets during the lockdown.

Grzybowski said she was waiting in line to pick up her kids when a parent said her friend's son was stuck in a computer lab and couldn't leave for the bathroom.  He had to use a trash can instead.

Gorrell said bused and walking students were held past the normal end of the school day because the information from police had not changed. Parents were allowed to pick up students but were required to show identification.

“With the suspect's whereabouts unknown, we did not want to prematurely send students out of school and off buses potentially into harm's way,” Gorrell’s letter states.

Two Madison schools, Leopold and Chavez, were also under lockdown, but students were not held in classrooms. Those schools dismissed on time.

Gorrell’s letter also addresses concerns about communication with parents during the manhunt. The district uses opt-in email and text notification systems, but Gorrell said a newer system scheduled to go online next year will not require parents to sign up.

“I want to acknowledge that the events of May 2 may have been terribly upsetting to your child in a locked-down classroom and for you as parents in not having adequate (or any) communication about this. For that I apologize,” he wrote.

Gorrell said the district made decisions based on what it knew and did its best to communicate with families.

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