Des Moines Public Schools is in a city of more than 200,000 people and a metro area of nearly 700,000. DMPS is the largest school district in Iowa, with more than 60 buildings spaced throughout our capital city. Everything that happens in a city happens near a school (or a church or a business or a home or a park).
Sometimes, people make bad choices and commit a crime, make threats, fight, or openly carry a weapon. When that happens, Des Moines police notify any nearby schools. DMPS Public Safety can choose to issue an external lockdown at a school. They often do so as a precaution because it requires little effort and adds a layer of protection for students and staff as they go about their day inside the building.
Even though this is not an unusual event, media reports will include headlines with the words “lockdown” and “schools.” It can generate interest from concerned citizens. What can be lost in a headline is context, as these incidents rarely have anything to do with what is happening at a school, only in the vicinity.
School doors are, and should be, secured during school hours every day. The difference during an external lockdown is (1) any recess will be held indoors, (2) school office staff don’t permit people to enter or leave the building, and (3) lunch may be delayed depending on the timing of the event. Most lockdowns are over in 20 minutes or less. During almost every external lockdown, the learning day continues inside the building unimpeded.
The most important takeaway is that external lockdowns have nothing to do with what is happening inside a school. They are, by nature, external events that typically do not involve students or staff. They will occur as often as the police or DMPS Public Safety deems necessary to shield students and staff from any potential nearby threat in the community.
Please note that the news media listens to police scanners. Therefore, they may become aware of and report about an external lockdown shortly after it begins and before the school can reach parents and guardians.
School administrators know parents and guardians want to help whenever possible. Here’s what you can do:
- Please don’t call the school office or come to the school. Staff are busy and need to keep lines of communication open so that they stay updated about what is happening outside of the building. They will not be able to share additional information during the event.
- Watch your email for communication from your principal explaining what happened to generate the external lockdown response.
- If additional action is needed on your part during the event, for example, if it is occurring during morning drop off or afterschool pick up, your school will be in touch.
If you have additional questions about external lockdowns, please ask your school’s administrative staff.