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In the aftermath of the recent hoax-triggered lockdown of a Glen Oaks public school complex, parents and State lawmakers are putting the city on notice that they want to be put on notice, when it comes to school emergencies.
On Thursday, December 13 teachers and students at the Queens High School of Teaching, Liberal Arts and Sciences and two other schools, P.S./I.S. 266 and P.S./I.S.208 found themselves locked down when an assistant principal at the high school discovered a letter threatening seven students with death in his mailbox shortly before 2 p.m.
Police were notified and by 2:30, shortly before the normal dismissal time, the schools were “locked down” by police, who conducted a search of the schools, looking for a potential gunman.
For the next two hours and more, rumors were spread by parents unable to pick up their children, and by children secretly calling their parents on banned cell phones, as to the nature of the situation.
The schools themselves were virtually unreachable by phone during the crisis, as school officials reportedly attempted to place phone calls to numbers listed on “blue cards” listing emergency contact numbers for each student in each of the schools.”
The following day, Assemblymembers Mark Weprin and Rory announced their intention to introduce legislation requiring the Department of Education to implement an electronic emergency notification system at all city schools during a public rally in front of the gated campus in Glen Oaks.
“The technology necessary for providing timely information about an emergency situation to every parent exists, and the Department of Education should be taking advantage of it,” said Assembly-member Mark Weprin. “Every parent has a right to know what is happening in his or her child’s school, especially if there is an emergency.”
As it was, the most effective communication came from students sharing their forbidden cell phones.
According to one parent of an elementary school pupil, who asked not to be identified because she works in the school system, “I got a cell phone call from my son. He was whispering, ‘We’re in lock down.’ I could hear the teacher yelling at the students in a very excited manner. I never got a call from the school.”
New York City is implementing a pilot community notification system in four neighborhoods, but that is not good enough for Lancman.
“It is essential for the safety of our schools and the children they serve that parents and staff be given accurate, clear information when emergency situations occur, which is why New York State, New York City, SUNY, CUNY and private colleges are all implementing emergency notification systems,” he said, adding “Our public schools deserve the same system.”
It turned out that the letter was a prank by two teenage girls. Nobody is laughing.
Shelena Clark, 16, of Cambria Heights and an unidentified 15-year-old were taken into custody. The 15-year-old is being treated as a juvenile in Family Court.
In statements made to the police, Clark allegedly said that she and the juvenile decided to write the note as a joke and they put it in the assistant principal’s mailbox together.
Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said, “The sad reality is that we live in a time when every threat to student safety must be taken at face value. In this case, the defendant and her young acquaintance are accused of creating a scenario that could have had serious consequences.”
For Clark, who faces a year in jail, the scenario is about as serious as it can get.

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