Hale Middle School principal says his campus had advantage over El Camino Real High during lockdown
Students at Hale Middle School were fed and allowed bathroom breaks after Wednesday's post-shooting lockdown because authorities set up the command post there and were able to quickly search the campus, Principal Neal Siegel said Thursday.
Siegel said that in a situation such as Wednesday's, when police staged a massive hunt for a gunman who shot a police officer near El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills, any emergency plans must be approved by police before being implemented.
"In this particular emergency, the plans are fluid and are always tweaked along the way," Siegel said, adding that the school had enough water and food to feed all students for 72 hours.
Siegel said Hale students received food and were allowed bathroom breaks in part because authorities designated it the command post for Wednesday's manhunt. Numerous police officers on campus meant the school was searched and cleared relatively quickly compared with a larger, more sprawling school such as nearby El Camino Real, he said.
"Yes, parents are upset that their children at El Camino perhaps weren't allowed to use the bathroom," Siegel said, "but safety of the students is our top priority."
"It's not like El Camino didn't have food for the kids. All the schools have food for the kids," he said. "But our biggest concern is the emotional and physical well-being of the students."
Siegel also said the emergency plans included a "reunification plan," under which students are released one by one into the custody of a parent or guardian listed on the emergency card kept by the school.
Many parents complained Thursday morning of waiting two or three hours to pick up their kids in a line that snaked onto the sidewalk and over the hill in front of the school.
Odette Fulliam, whose sixth-grade daughter attends Hale, described the scene outside the school as "utter chaos" as parents frantically tried to pick up their children.
"Parents were screaming," she said. "They were yelling at the police and people who worked at the school for their kids."
Fulliam said she arrived at the school shortly after 4 p.m. and managed to pick up her daughter 1 1/2 hours later.
But Siegel stood by the pickup system and noted most students, perhaps 1,500, usually walked home, an untenable option when a gunman is on the loose.
"That required 1,500 parents to come from wherever they were to pick them up," he said. "Even in an earthquake, you wouldn't have so many parents picking their child up at the same time."
Parents, with some exceptions, were mostly pleased with the way Hale handled the situation, but many worried how schools in the district would handle another emergency. Many were troubled by the way El Camino Real handled the lockdown.
"No food was given," Fulliam said. "My son and daughter said classmates were peeing into trash cans."
Her son, senior Brandon Mims, 17, said the situation quickly deteriorated in his class.
"I was starving. But even worse, we all needed to go to the bathroom. We asked the SWAT officers if we could. They said 'negative.'"
Brandon said his teacher pulled out a portable toilet used for camping, thrilled that it was finally coming in handy. Fulliam added that after students were finally released, her daughter, freshman Kayla Mims, 15, tried going to the bathroom and was stopped by a cop.
"It was safe enough to let students leave but not safe enough to let them use the bathroom?" she said. "How does that make sense?"
-- Shan Li in Woodland Hills
Photo: Students at Hale Middle School on Thursday morning. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times