WHS students and staff reflect on back-to-back school emergencies

On Oct. 18 and Nov. 21, WHS was sent into lockdown and shelter-in-place, respectively, due to threatening messages directed towards the school. In both instances, the student resource officer stationed in the building dispatched police officers to WHS. After some time, the police deemed both threats to be non-credible and the school returned to normal instruction. While Principal Mary Asfendis confirmed that the second situation involved a phone call made to the school, Hi’s Eye could not confirm what type of message triggered the first lockdown.

As these situations progressed, parents were alerted by text messages and emails from both the school and the Westfield Police Department. Westfield Public Schools Superintendent Raymond González said, “Given the news reports nationwide about senseless gun violence, we are always on high alert. To allay concerns during situations like this, we are committed to clear and timely communication with our school community.”

Members of the school reflected on these events, as well as the ongoing school safety issue around the country. Health Teacher Kevin Everly said, “It’s sad that we live in a world with these problems. There are a lot of things that we can’t control, but I think the school has shown that it is ready for safety issues like these.”

Junior Caroline Morrelli was scared and she said, “[Lockdowns have] become a normal thing.”

WHS practices emergency procedures at least twice a month. When real situations occur, especially like the most recent shelter-in-place that lasted about an hour, it can be quite alarming for some, like sophomore Kate Fischer, who noted, “These lockdowns have been very scary for me. It concerns me that we’re not safe and it just makes everything I see on the news a reality.”

Student Resource Officer Nick Calello is the first line of defense against any threats to the school. When these threats are made, Calello is contacted by walkie-talkie and evaluates the situation. He then advises the school’s administration on what type of emergency protocol to enact and calls 5 to 10 additional officers to the school to assure the safety of the building. “The goal is to get everybody out of here uninjured, alive and safe,” said Calello.

As the police officer in the school, Calello tends to get questions and feedback. “Everybody always asks why this happens, and it’s happening more and more around the whole country,” said Calello. He confirmed that the most recent call was not made by a current student and that there is an open investigation underway.

Despite being confident in the school’s response, senior Joey Gamba believes more information could have been given to the public. “We weren’t ever really communicated with about the lockdown, even after it,” Gamba said. “We were left in the dark as to why it happened, and I think the unknown is scarier than anything else.”

The two situations occurred in just over a month of each other, which Asfendis saw as a silver lining. “Having two in such close succession was helpful for us to evaluate our processes.” She added, “We had the opportunity to make sure that those procedures that we drill are really working.”

As the school responded to the incidents in different ways, Asfendis said, “I think it’s really important to differentiate between what a lockdown and shelter-in-place are. One of the things we are doing is really solidifying that language. When there’s a shelter-in-place, it’s not an imminent danger.”

Asfendis made clear that she was proud of the school’s relationship with the police department, and that having an officer in the school was helpful.

Administration has also moved the student exit for open lunch to the breezeway throughout December on a trial basis in an attempt to better secure the back door.