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Lockdown at Lake Worth Middle School highlights need for Spanish-speaking school police officers

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — The concerns and worries of parents spread quickly Thursday when a code-red lockdown was put in place at Lake Worth Middle School.

Parents told WPTV that there was a lack of communication, specifically for those who speak Spanish.

"For the parents, it was very scary and very frustrating," Mariana Blanco with the Guatemalan Maya Center said. "We got a lot of calls, and we found out about the situation because the parents were calling us because they were getting calls from the schools, but they didn't understand what the messages were saying. They didn't understand what was happening."

Mariana Blanco says parents of children who attend Lake Worth Middle School called the Guatemalan Maya Center seeking information about Thursday's lockdown.

More than 37% of students are Spanish speaking in the Palm Beach County School District, according to district officials. However, Police Chief Sarah Mooney said only about 10% of their police force speaks Spanish.

"Having 10% is actually pretty good," Mooney said. "Is it good enough? We will work with whatever we have to make sure it's as good a service as we can provide."

Mooney said they are not currently offering any added incentives to bilingual individuals, and their efforts right now are focused on staffing their police force.

"My primary concern is trying to make sure we have enough officers, No. 1," Mooney said. "But as they come in, it's just an added benefit if they are bilingual in the mix with recruiting efforts."

Chief Sarah Mooney speaks about the benefits of having bilingual police officers.

According to Mooney, several Spanish-speaking officers were on campus Thursday.

"We had several officers on scene that spoke Spanish," Mooney said. "However, during a code-red situation, their focus is not on the outside of the campus. Their focus is with what's going on inside the campus."

Blanco said adequate representation could make all the difference for families.

"Lack of communication, lack of understanding and language barriers played a huge part in the chaos that surrounded that situation," Blanco said.

Spanish-speaking officers are assigned to certain areas based on the languages spoken in that community, according to Mooney.

Watch video on WPTV here.

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