CLEARWATER, Florida -- Clearwater police received a 911 call reporting shots fired at a school, and they ordered a lockdown. But school staff started notifying parents an hour after the lockdown was issued, and parents say that is not soon enough.
The 911 call made from a cell phone turned out to be hoax, but it happened at one of the worst possible times -- during dismissal, when parents were already at the school to pick up their kids and others waiting for them at their bus stops.
Parents say school officials kept them in the dark about what was happening at their child's school. One parent describes the scene as chaos.
"He was scared. It's a scary situation. He's better today," says Kimberly Goodwin Gerardo. She started worrying when her son Isaiah's school bus was 20 minutes late Tuesday afternoon. She headed to Belleair Elementary to find the road blocked and police on scene.
Kimberly says, "Forty minutes after the bell rings, still five bus loads of kids, there had been no call, nobody to calm people down in the situation."
Here's the timeline of what happened: School dismissal was at 2:50 in the afternoon. At 2:53, Clearwater Police placed Belleair in a lockdown, and at 3:30 school staff recorded the first message to parents.
The caller says, "Dismissal delayed today. Clearwater Police placed the school on a precautionary lockdown. All students and staff are safe."
But the SchoolMessenger system did not start sending it until 3:55 p.m., and it took an hour to reach 91 percent of parents. At 3:56, the lockdown was lifted.
Kimberly says she received the first message at 4:35 p.m., an hour and half after the lockdown had been issued.
"No, that's not acceptable. [There was] chaos, panic. It's the scariest thing that's happen to me," says Kimberly.
"I understand parents feel that way. Staff did what they could to get the message out as soon as they could," says Melanie Marquez, spokesperson for the Pinellas school district.
Marquez says school staff followed protocol. "In terms of getting the message out, it's important, but the first thing we have to pay attention to is safety of students and cooperation with law enforcement."
"When an emergency situation happens, there should be some parent communication that goes out immediately," says Kimberly.
She says parents need to be informed. "To comfort the minds of these parents. They can make the situation a lot worst by being up there."
Pinellas School Board members Carol Cook and Peggy O'Shea say while the school staff put student safety first, as they should, both say it appears the district needs to review procedures for notifying parents in a more efficient and timely manner.
Marquez says parents should check their contact information with the schools to make sure it is accurate and up-to-date.