A News Channel 3 investigation has uncovered that district officials didn't follow safety protocols in multiple incidents when weapons were reported at valley schools.
In response to outraged parents, scared students and KESQ's questions, the district says it made changes. But are they working?
Repeated reports of weapons
Three east valley schools and thousands of kids were evacuated last November after students reported a classmate had a gun on campus.
"My daughter's terrified," said Lydia Lavergne, a Desert Mirage High School parent. "She's hearing...there was a shooter there."
A loaded handgun was found in a backpack at a Coachella high school in January.
"I think everybody was in danger. There was a potential for a tragic event," said Carissa Carrera, Coachella Valley Teachers Association president.
Schools were locked down last week in Thermal after a student turned in a gun magazine loaded with bullets.
"Nobody even takes a minute to tell us what's going on," said parent Marta Lua.
This week, an unfounded report of a knife sent Coachella Valley High School into lockdown.
These incidents all happened on Coachella Valley Unified School District campuses. News Channel 3 pressed district spokesperson Lissette Santiago if the district has things under control.
"In our society, there's a problem. And it's not just schools that need to be responsible," Santiago said. "Many of the times that parents are completely unaware what objects or weapons or things their students are bringing on campus."
Her comments came just days after hundreds of CVUSD students walked out of class – some saying they don't feel safe anymore at school.
"Every day I wake up and I don't know if that's the last time I'm going tell my mom I love her," said CVHS senior Abigail Alvarez Aguilar.
At the protest, district Superintendent Dr. Luis Valentino accepted the district's responsibility, admitting: "We made a mistake."
Valentino said he should have locked down Coachella Valley High School when the student was found with that loaded gun in January.
But parents got frustrated after Valentino apologized for not being transparent about that incident.
News Channel 3 obtained an email sent by the school's principal the day it happened. The message didn't mention a loaded weapon, but instead said an "object" was found that posed no threat.
Parents learned it was a gun 6 days later.
News Channel 3's Jake Ingrassia asked Santiago, "Why did the district withhold that information?"
"So the district didn't withhold the information. What happened was that the site communicated with their families and their staff that there was an "object" that was found during that incident. Unfortunately, that was not the right term that the district had approved," she said. "Some of our staff didn't follow procedures."
Santiago blamed it on a "lapse of implementation" for new crisis communication protocols the district has rolled out over the last few months.
CVUSD is supposed to send public updates every 30 minutes, even if they're bare bone.
"Sometimes our updates are not as comprehensive as any of us would want them to be. But we are limited by the information we receive by law enforcement," Santiago said.
But this week at the Coachella Valley High School lockdown, the district appeared to break that protocol again.
CVHS parent Joe Ramos told News Channel 3 at 10:50 a.m. that he hadn't received an update since 9:15 a.m. – more than 90 minutes earlier.
CVUSD officials Wednesday announced mandatory students' backpack checks to prevent weapons on campus.
No written communications plan
News Channel 3 started asking questions to other school districts too.
Palm Springs Unified School District responded earlier this year to a threatening video on social media. A Cathedral City 12-year-old was arrested for filming themself with several guns police found at the home.
A spokesperson said the communications goal "is appropriate notification and communication in a timely manner when it is warranted by an actual or verified potential safety threat on a campus."
The district said there is no written protocol for communicating with families, since every situation is different.
Parents are reached by phone, email and text auto-dialer messages with information about the threat and any actions to take.
PSUSD said no guns have been reported on its campuses this year.
Investigating threats and prevention
At Desert Sands Unified School District, no firearms were found this year on campuses during school hours.
A district employee was the victim of an early morning carjacking last fall by two minors believed to be armed in the parking lot of an Indio elementary school. No student were present during that incident.
DSUSD Director of Security and Safety Services Edward Nacua said crisis information is communicated off campus to parents as soon as the investigation allows.
"When there's a threat, we're going to get that information out," Nacua said. "I can't think of a time when we wouldn't put that information out if there's a threat."
News Channel 3 asked Nacua: How important is communication in these scenarios and keeping everybody in the loop in real time?
"That is the number one area where there's failure. If you can't communicate in an emergency or disaster, you may not be able to get the best possible response," he said.
All three districts talked about training as an ongoing process.
CVUSD is analyzing its recent incidents and adapting to improve procedures.
PSUSD said it's presently undergoing training for a federally backed crisis protocol.
DSUSD updates its safety plan every year and trains staff accordingly, saying that's because there are lessons to be learned and there's always room for improvement.