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Denver Public Schools looking to improve communication with parents during emergency situations

In May, Northfield High was placed on lockdown because a student reported they saw someone with a gun. It turned out to be a paintball gun, and no one was hurt.

DENVER — Safety officials with Denver Public Schools are looking at the lessons learned after police responded to a threat at Northfield High School in May. 

The campus was placed on lockdown because a student reported they saw someone with a gun. 

Police said it turned out to be a paintball gun. No one was hurt.

This situation at Northfield ended as well as possible, but it put a lot of families on edge, especially since this call happened the day after a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

The reunification process took approximately two hours from the time students arrived at the location to when all students were reunited with their families or released on their own accord. Some parents felt it took a while to find out what was going on at the school.

RELATED: Paintball gun prompted lockdown at Denver's Northfield High School

Michael Eaton, Chief of the DPS Department of Safety, spoke in front of school board members Monday night to discuss how he wants to improve communication with families during these types of incidents. Eaton said one of the challenges of sharing information with parents right away is that the message must be approved by the Denver Police Department in many emergency situations.

According to Eaton, a Denver Public Schools spokesperson had information to send out that day, but Denver police said the district couldn't share it yet because officers needed to make sure the information was accurate and wouldn't compromise a criminal investigation.

During the meeting, Eaton said there are ways to improve this process so families don't have to wait as long for information.

"That is a huge barrier in the timeliness of our communications out to the public and our families," he said.

Eaton said they will never be able to beat social media or texting because they want to be accurate before they are sending out messages to families.

"Whatever we put out may create anxiety as well as create panic," he said. "We can't have an influx of hundreds of parents to a scene, because we have no place to support them."  

Eaton said his team is committed to working over the summer to review the lessons learned during the incident.

"I am very respectful of the police department's position on timeliness of notifications to not jeopardize the integrity of their criminal investigation, but I am also pushing on them to say, we have parents that are waiting on communication from us and waiting 45 minutes to an hour is just not going to cut it for a parent," Eaton said.

Eaton said two of his children were at Arapahoe High School during a shooting in 2013. One of his sons was locked down for more than two hours in a closet. His other son ran out of the school on his own. Eaton said he went to the school as a parent and had no notification from the district except during the onset of the situation. He described those minutes as feeling like hours.

"Where do we meet the police department halfway through our relationship -- them understanding what our needs are and us understanding what their needs are?" he said.

Eaton said his team at Northfield knew within 15 minutes that no one was firing bullets inside the school. He wants to find a way to send out some type of message to parents quickly to put them at ease.

RELATED: Northfield High School students protest gun violence at Capitol

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