Accidental lockdown leaves student body shocked

False alarm led to fear of real threat at Winnetka

At approximately 1:59 p.m. last Friday, the lockdown alarm rang through the Winnetka Campus alerting students that they needed to get to a classroom as quickly as possible. Unlike previous lockdown drills, this alarm sounded during a passing period.  

Lasting for 18 minutes, the lockdown was later revealed to have been falsely activated by a teacher simply attempting to leave the school building. 

Adding to the confusion, the PA system was not properly turned off and the sounds of someone apologizing and static could be heard throughout the school.

Senior Tess Stetter described feeling a certain numbness when the alarm first went off. She and many other students initially believed it was simply a planned drill. 

“It wasn’t a surprise, it was more like a ‘oh, here we go again’ type of thing. Because from what it seemed, it’s probably not a great mindset, but I was like ‘it’s not that urgent,’” Stetter said.

However, many students quickly gained the sinking feeling that the lockdown had not been planned.

For Junior Iris Ely, the crackle of the speaker coming in and out made her realize the lockdown was real.

“Then the PA came on, and it wasn’t really clear and there was that part where we heard the voice saying ‘I’m sorry’ and there was a lot of static,” Ely explained. “That’s when it hit me, this is real.” 

The weight of the situation was heightened by the increase of school shootings across America. According to Maeve McConnell, a Junior, the thought of other schools that experienced gun violence made her class’s fear even more intense.

“The whole situation with everything that has been going on, with all of the school shootings and stuff like that, definitely got to us,” said McConnell. “I really thought the worst thing possible would happen. I thought I was going to die.” 

Overall, lockdown procedure was implemented swiftly once the alarms sounded. Within two minutes, the hallways were clear. Within three minutes, Winnetka police were on campus to sweep the building. Amid the chaos and confusion, many students looked to their teachers to understand what was going on. 

For junior, Mila Cutler, the actions their teacher took during the drill simultaneously increased the gravity of the situation  while also creating a sense of security.

“What really hurt to watch was seeing my teacher stand in front of the door. Knowing that she was ready to sacrifice herself for us was something really intense that I wasn’t ready to see,” said Cutler.

Students had a wide variety of experiences depending on the room they were in. Sophomore, Blair Weiss, described how people in their room all reacted strongly.

“It was really scary and [the teacher] was crying, and since the teacher was crying a lot of the kids were crying,” said Weiss.

Junior Sadie Bard managed to reach the safety of the gym locker rooms, but getting there proved to be an independently scary experience.

“On the way to the gym, I remember just getting chased by like ten people screaming ‘go to the locker room.’ There were 70 of us lined up against the back wall, and teachers kept telling us ‘we don’t know what it is, we are just praying it is a drill,’” said Bard.

From the locker rooms, the PA system was only heard faintly.  This made staying updated more difficult, amplifying the stress of the lockdown.

Other problems that occurred throughout the school were indirectly caused by Lit Fest being that day. Lit Fest is an opportunity for students in writing classes to attend seminars run by several writers, authors, and musicians.  As a result, several classes had substitutes who were unfamiliar with lockdown procedures, and many students were in different classrooms.

“I have friends who because it was Lit fest, they might have ended up in the wrong room, and there were no subs to show up, and they didn’t have a key to lock the door” Ely explained.

Other problems arose because the lockdown took place during a passing period. Scheduled drills have always happened during class periods to ensure every class has a teacher.

Junior Eyllah Babbitt was with her English calss during the lockdown. Her teacher had not yet  arrived, and the students had no way to lock their door. 

“My teacher hadn’t shown up yet, so we were just in there without a teacher and the door was unlocked. This guy stacked the desks, and we all flipped over the desks. We sat there and we waited and we didn’t have a teacher in the room. We broke a meter stick in half so we had a weapon,” Babbitt said.

In a statement sent to parents, Superintendent Paul Sally recognized that several procedural problems had become apparent during the lockdown that the administration could now address. Students were given the opportunity to discuss these concerns during advisory and at the beginning of several classes.

“While many parts of the lockdown went well, we know we have improvements to make. Our top priority is to ensure that we never have another accidental lockdown activation.  We are also gathering information from students and staff about places where the PA announcements could not be heard and doors could not be locked, among a number of other items,” Sally wrote.

Sally also praised students and staff for their quick reaction and patience during the lockdown.

“I am proud of their response under such significant stress, and I know some of them may continue to reflect on these events over the weekend and beyond,” Sally wrote.

After the lockdown had been called off,  students’ experiences varied dramatically. For junior, Olivia San Jose, her experience was very positive.

“Afterward, teachers were very sensitive which I appreciated, I think it was good that the traumatizing effects of it were acknowledged,” San Jose reflected.

Unfortunately, not all students shared the same comfort from teachers as San Jose. 

“My next class, [the teacher] didn’t talk about it at all, he just went on with the class as if nothing happened,” explained junior Elie Zieserl.

The following Monday, advisory period was dedicated to discussion of students’ experiences and what specifically went wrong during the drill. Many students appreciated this opportunity to process what had happened and specifically address what changes were needed.

“During advisory we talked about not just what happened with us, but also what we think needs to be addressed or changed. That really helped us feel like we had our voices heard,” said Zieserl. 

Ely agreed it is essential for students to be continuously involved and informed of changes going forward.

“The administration is overseeing some changes to the system and students should be a part of this process and notified,” said Ely.

Though the lockdown only lasted for 17 minutes, students may continue to feel its impacts.

“What makes me the most mad is that a lot of kids felt like their feelings on the event weren’t valid since it was a false alarm,” said Cutler.

“Ultimately, even though the threat in the lockdown wasn’t real, the fear and anxiety students felt was,” said Junior Tatum Richardson.