By Jordan Cohen
Mathews Superintendent Lewis Lowery said that an alert-notification system to be installed next month would have prevented a panic and an exodus of a number of students last week after one student was overheard discussing the possibility of carrying out a shooting in the high school.
“Had we had the alert system, parents would have been notified in five minutes, but with what we have now, I couldn’t do anything but send out a letter the next day,” Lowery said.
The student, Justin Westbay, 18, of Vienna, is under house arrest after being charged with inducing panic, a felony.
Investigators allege that Westbay was overheard discussing the strategy for an attack.
He was eventually removed from the high school in handcuffs.
Lowery said when word spread throughout the building about the comments, he placed the school in lockdown.
“Because we had no immediate notification system available, some 60-80 students left the building and their parents didn’t know what was going on,” the superintendent said.
Lowery discussed the security measures during the board of education meeting Wednesday, which had been moved in advance from the library to the Mathews High School cafeteria in anticipation of the larger than usual turnout.
Approximately 40 people attended.
The superintendent noted that less than a month before the incident, the board had voted to purchase the alert and magnetic door lock systems at a combined cost of nearly $12,000.
“A camera system will link to the office and the secretaries can control who enters and leaves, but right now we just have to keep the front doors locked,” Lowery said.
“It’s an inconvenience but we can live with it.”
Installation of the new locking system is expected to be completed within two weeks.
Lowery said the alert system, scheduled for completion by Feb. 11, will enable him to promptly call all parents within five minutes.
Lowery said parents or guardians will receive automated calls with his voice explaining the situation. Phone numbers in the school files will be downloaded into the system.
The superintendent said that in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., the district has to take any possible threat seriously and that parents have generally been receptive to his handling of the incident.
“I had a few calls, but I was able to explain how and why everything happened,” Lowery said.
The case against Westbay, who appeared in Girard Municipal Court, is pending.