Lockdown sparks concerns over emergency procedure

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Graphic based on critical eyewitness, Hugo Slothower's, sketch (Tenya Tremp).

By Paige Anderson

Additional reporting by Samantha Nichols and Emily Stull

Marin authorities arrested a 21-year-old man on January 30 in connection with reports of a masked gunman that led to the campus lockdown and shelter in place on Monday, January 27. According to a press release from the Marin County Sheriff’s Office, the suspect, former Tam student Michael Kessler, used an Airsoft replica gun and mask to record a Snapchat video near campus when he was noticed by witnesses. 

“Everyone who does have a free seventh [period] had already gone and then had gotten in their cars and left so I was the only one in the BPL [back parking lot] and the only one on this road,” eyewitness and Tam senior Hugo Slothower said. “He opened his door and went to his trunk and that’s when he pulled out the Airsoft. It was as real as it could be at the time … Then he got back into his car with an [airsoft] AK-47 and drove toward the school.”   

Kessler was charged with possession of a weapon on school grounds, destroying and concealing evidence, brandishing a replica firearm, and changing the markings on an imitation firearm; Kessler covered the orange barrel on the replica AK-47 with electric tape.

The lockdown raised concerns from students, parents, and staff over Tam’s emergency preparedness, due to a variety of issues that arose during the two-hour shelter in place.

According to some students, several substitute teachers were unsure of what to do during the emergency, and some were forced to conduct the lockdown procedure in their place. 

“We had a sub the day the lockdown happened and he was really unprepared … He was outside at one point trying to lock the door and we told him to come inside. We had to try to use belts to secure it [the door] since he couldn’t lock it,” sophomore Ariel Lee said.

 Tam teachers have an annual staff meeting with a local police officer to review emergency procedures and conduct. Since substitute teachers are not full-time employees at Tam, they are not required to participate.

“I was upset after the fact. Finding out students tried to advocate [for themselves] knowing exactly what to do. They knew to leave the door locked. They knew not to look at the blinds … [the substistute] still did it,” social studies teacher Tim Morgan, who was sick on the day of the lockdown, said. “I was actually very proud of them for standing up and taking initiative … It’s unfortunate when an adult wouldn’t listen to them on those steps.” 

 Long term substitute Lisa Monroe-Watts said she was able to follow the lockdown procedure cure and was felt that her classroom was as safe as possible during the emergency.

“I basically reacted from the point of stay calm and carry on … Then I thought, what if we’re here for hours? What if this goes on for a really long time and they [the students] get hungry. I was thinking about what they were feeling and what they were going to need next,” Monroe-Watts said.

Soon after the lockdown ended, all substitute teachers were given directions for appropriate emergency behavior. 

“We are already working on an instructional page that will be given to all subs when they check in, in the morning. We must also make sure that our students know what the procedures and protocols are as there may be times that the teacher, sub or permanent, is not able to respond to the emergency,” assistant principal Kaki McLachlan said in an email.

 A separate issue with the PA system’s volume in the portable classrooms left some students unable to hear any announcements during the lockdown. The administration fixed the issue the following day. 

“We had to adjust the volume so announcements come through clearly. We have multiple methods for communicating with teachers like reminders, emails, so that if a person doesn’t get the information in one way they will in another,” principal J.C. Farr said.

Students brought up several issues concerning their peers’ behavior during the lockdown. Multiple students reported their classmates making noise and treating the situation lightly. 

“Students were acting like nothing was going on, and messing around and laughing. If there had been a dangerous individual, I think it would be really unsafe to be acting the way students did. Even though we knew we were safe, it’s still a lockdown, and people should treat it as such,” an anonymous student said.  

“After around 15 to 20 minutes, people started to talk and play Uno. I was drawing stuff on the whiteboard. We all could have taken it a little more seriously,” junior Luke Osborn said. 

In some classrooms, students continued to work and teachers kept teaching during the procedure. This is against the lockdown procedure. 

“I’m going to implicate myself here, but the kids kinda kept working. I never really told them to keep working,” chemistry teacher Simon McBride said. “We made sure the blinds were down and doors were closed. I just thought it was the best thing to do – and I know you’re meant to huddle – was to keep them [the students] working since they were calm. I thought it was good to keep them focused.”

The administration held a staff meeting the day after the lockdown to discuss how the district could be better prepared for future emergency events. 

“Our staff met to talk about how to improve the situation. I think we realized we have a pretty good base for our protocol, but we definitely have some areas of improvement. Our administration recognized that. I think teachers recognized that,” Morgan said.

The district is currently reviewing emergency procedures, but they have not yet put specific plans into motion yet.

“These protocols and procedures are constantly being updated and revised based upon best practices and what we learn as these tragic events continue to happen. We have a great group of students, community volunteers, staff, and police representatives called our Emergency Preparation Committee that meet on a monthly basis to continue to take steps to make our campus and community as safe as possible,” McLachlan said. 

Members of the administration stated that they were happy with how the lockdown procedure was conducted as a whole. 

“We did great. This was an extremely scary time and we will continue to find ways to be safer,” McLachlan said.