5/1/2013 8:45:00 AM Daughter's loss in school crisis leads father to positive action
John-Michael Keyes, the father of Emily Keyes who was killed by a gunman at Platte Canyon High School in Colorado on Sept. 27, 2006, speaks to Yavapai County educators, law enforcement, and members of the public on April 24.
Photo courtesy Les Stukenberg
Shortly after Chino Valley High School conducted a recent lockdown drill, Supt. Duane Howard received an email from a concerned parent stating how the drills upset students, caused them a lot of stress, and interrupted class.
Howard said he explained how the drills help the school and law enforcement recognize and remedy any weaknesses in the district's Emergency Response Protocol.
"We believe knowledge eliminates fear. If students and teachers know what to do, they will respond the way they have 'practiced,'" he told the parent.
Two days later, a gunman murdered 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
"I got an email from the parent saying, 'Thank you for looking out for our kids. I get it,'" Howard said.
School district representatives and first responders from all over Yavapai County spent Wednesday afternoon at the Humboldt Unified School District Office listening to John-Michael Keyes tell how his 16-year-old daughter, Emily, died during a hostage situation at her Colorado high school in September 2006.
After his daughter's death, Keyes said he and his wife were committed to taking positive action.
"This horrible thing happened and we can't change that," he said.
From that experience, Keyes and his wife, Ellen Stoddard-Keyes, created the I Love U Guys Foundation in 2009, then researched and developed a school safety program called Standard Response Protocol.
Thousands of school districts across the country have adopted SRP, which provides standardized vocabulary and response to any given scenario, which could include a gunman on campus, fire, accidents or weather events. The safety protocol is based on four actions: Lockout, Lockdown, Evacuate and Shelter.
Lockout calls for school officials to secure the perimeter of the campus in case of threat from outside, such as a vicious dog on the playground, bee swarm, or a bank robber. For students, it is "business as usual" in classrooms, with teachers gathering anyone from outside to return inside. Teachers take roll.
Lockdown refers to an internal situation. "Locks, lights, out of sight." Teachers lock the classroom door, turn out the lights, and everyone goes to a predetermined, out-of-sight place where the teacher quietly takes roll. They wait until first responders let them know it is safe to resume studies or leave the classroom.
Evacuate is when students move from one location to another. Keyes said he tells students that police will want to see their hands, and he showed two video news clips from school incidents.
"Walking out hand-in-hand (with classmates) presents a different image than with hands on heads," he noted.
Shelter can depend on the scenario or hazard facing the school. Shelter for tornadoes could include instructions to drop, cover and hold.
Each instruction and response has a common language and common expectations of behavior. "What they learn in kindergarten is the same as in twelfth grade," Keyes said.
He recommended that schools also practice what to do in situations that might exist in locations other than their own. For instance, a neighboring school district may experience tornadoes or wandering mountain lions. Similarly, every substitute teacher should receive the same training as staff with instructional handouts available in every classroom.
One thing he recommends during a Lockdown procedure is to leave the windows uncovered.
"Law enforcement treats every room as a threat until it is not," he said, adding that police now are trained to take action from the hallway into classrooms. Schools should work with their local law enforcement agencies and defer to their advice, he said.
Keyes advocates for direct, honest communication throughout a crisis, both with students and parents. To minimize chaos after an event, he said schools should have a standard reunification method in place where parents can pick up their children.
"It's okay to tell kids about danger. The world is not scary; it is uncertain," he said.
The Foundation's name came from a text message from Emily to her father on Sept. 27, 2006. He and his wife had given Emily and her twin brother, Casey, cell phones for their birthday two weeks before the shooting. Keyes said he needed help sending a text message to Emily asking how she was, to which she replied, "I love u guys." It was the last communication he had with her.
In addition to the Foundation, the Keyes created Safe2Tell, an anonymous way young people can report any threatening behaviors or activities without fear of retaliation. They also support organ and tissue donations, per Emily's wishes.