Superintendent responds to shelter-in-place incident


Celina Lee

Superintendent Don Austin speaks to student journalists in a press conference this morning in the Media Arts Center regarding the shelter-in-place Tuesday at Palo Alto High School. According to Austin, clearer communication by the district to staff and students is needed in case of similar future events, as some teachers were unsure of what defined a shelter-in-place protocol. “What is important to know in these situations is the kind of communication you should expect,” Austin said. “If there’s a serious situation, you’re gonna hear an announcement about it.”

Payton Anderson, Senior Staff Writer

Responding to questions about the shelter-in-place students experienced on Tuesday, Palo Alto Unified School District’s Superintendent Don Austin this morning told journalists from three student publications that the district was aware on Tuesday that the on-campus threat was not credible and was heightened by a series of student, parent social media posts. 

In a Paly Voice sponsored press conference, Austin said the shelter-in-place was more of a response to the stress arising within the community due to misinformation spread on social media. 

“At no time did we feel people were in danger,” Austin said. “The shelter-in-place was more to contain things because we know more than a few people took a picture of that notice and put it up on social media.” 

Parents also proceeded to share inaccurate information during Tuesday’s events over social media, resulting in dramatized depictions of what occurred on campus, Austin said, including what he said was an incorrect claim that police were “swarming” the campus.  

“I read some of the posts [by parents], not in live time but I had screenshots sent to me afterwards,” Austin said. “‘The police are swarming the campus.’ We had three officers here, and about an hour after the whole thing was done, two more showed up because they were in the area. At no point in time were there more than five but initially three if there is a real threat.”

Ultimately, Austin said communication is the most important thing for the district, staff and students to keep in mind for future shelter-in-place and lockdown events. 

“We need to do more talking with everybody about how if there is a situation where there is real danger,” Austin said. “There will be an announcement right away that says this is not a drill, we are in lockdown.” 

Palo Alto High School does not practice Code-Red Drills but continues to practice other safety drills, according to Austin. Austin said this is because certain drills are inefficient, as some practices can have a negative effect on students. 

“We’ll still do lockdown drills,” Austin said. “But here’s the biggest difference: we were told and actually shown research supporting that some of the drills themselves were creating anxiety that didn’t exist before, and that was especially true with our elementary school students.”  

Austin said PAUSD’s updated security system is a substantial improvement in promoting the safety of staff and students in the case of an on-campus threat.  

“So, it [the district security system] is really about as up to date as you can possibly get, and then our camera system is just top of the line,” Austin said. “The technology’s amazing, so those have been our biggest advances.”  

Following the events of Tuesday, Austin said he encourages students to reach out to the many mental-health resources available on campus if need. 

“District wide, we have more support staff around mental health in any district in the state of California,” Austin said. “We have massive support teams and [Principal] Mr. [Brent] Kline will help to work that through with our district staff.”