This is a strange and unfortunate day, and I hate it. I hate that a single person with a twisted idea can cancel school for hundreds of thousands of children in more than two dozen Colorado school districts.
That was the difficult decision that superintendents across the Denver metro area and as far afield as Bennet and Clear Creek made overnight in consultation with law enforcement. Even before the decision, many parents on social media were announcing their intentions to keep their children home as a manhunt for Sol Pais continues.
The FBI says that Pais is "infatuated" with the Columbine shooting, whose 20th anniversary is Saturday, and that she bought a gun and ammunition after traveling from Florida to Colorado. Authorities said Pais was last seen near Columbine — in the Jefferson County foothills outside Denver — wearing a black T-shirt, camouflage pants and black boots. If you see her or have any information, please call the FBI tip line at 303-630-6227.
Threats against schools in general and against Columbine in particular are, unfortunately, a common feature of the anniversary week. The initial response of school district officials and law enforcement was to place many Jeffco Public Schools on lockout. One Denver school, Grant Ranch ECE-8, near the Jeffco border, also went on lockout around 1 p.m.
Mid-afternoon, the Colorado Department of Education took the unusual step of tweeting that the Department of Public Safety had asked all metro area schools to go on lockout and conduct a controlled release at the end of the school day, putting these school safety decisions squarely in the public eye. Many districts quickly tweeted out their own responses: schools on lockout and an increased police presence during dismissal.
The response from Denver Public Schools came late and in a confusing manner, leaving many parents frustrated. District spokesman Will Jones told me that Denver's safety officials had been working closely with Jeffco throughout the day.
"We always want to do things in a manner that doesn't cause panic," Jones said. "Our Department of Safety has great relationships with law enforcement, and we made the decisions we felt were in the best interest of our students and families."
But parents didn't receive any communication from the district via text, robocall, or email until hours after the education department's tweet. And when the message did go out, it stated that "many" Denver schools were on lockout, something that Jones confirmed to me was inaccurate. Only one school was formally on lockout, though Jones noted that all Denver schools are locked during the school day.
Teachers also complained that they learned of the potential threat on social media, and many people saw students holding sports practice outside as normal, even though the district said all afterschool activities had been moved inside.
Jones said the district is working with its technology department to figure out why parent communication was delayed. Whatever happened, it's clear there was not a consistent message to all Denver schools about how to handle the situation.
Below, we've got the latest on the search for Sol Pais, a complete list of school closures, and stories on the lasting impact of the Columbine shooting.
Melanie also has a story on the Denver teachers union's leadership election, and Ann has a roundup of teacher perspective on a new law limiting suspensions for the youngest elementary school students.
— Erica Meltzer, bureau chief