Catholic School Superintendent’s Letter to Catholic Schools Parents

February 14, 2003

Dear Catholic Schools Parents,

One week ago the metropolitan area was introduced to the world of code orange. It has become the focus of every newscast and commentary across all forms of media. Everyone has advice and for every question there are multiple answers. As parents, you want to know – what does this mean for our schools and our children?

Let me assure you that the Archdiocese of Washington Catholic Schools are doing everything possible to be prepared to provide the safest and most secure environments for your children. You are blessed to have outstanding women and men serving as your principals. They know what to do and have proven to all what prudent and effective leaders they are just this past October. They are our chiefs of security and have prepared detailed emergency plans. All teachers and staff have been trained and drilled on these emergency procedures and each one is totally committed to the safety of each child in their care. There is no better place for your children during these difficult times.

These last several days, the Catholic Schools Office has attended meetings and briefings on this current state of alert. The most important and practical advice we can share is to remain calm, be patient and be prepared. We have advised all principals to follow the directives of local authorities and to listen diligently for announcements, alerts and advisories concerning any impending crisis. There is no one strategy that can be adopted, because no one knows the characteristics of any crisis that might occur. This is why it is so important to be flexible, calm and to follow the directives of the principal and the jurisdiction in which your school is located. The Archdiocese of Washington includes five counties in Maryland and the District of Columbia. The 110 unique Catholic schools must work within the counties of their jurisdiction. What happens in Montgomery County may be quite different than what happens in St. Mary’s County. This is why the Archdiocese cannot direct the emergency responses for all schools.

In the rare event of a biological or chemical incident, the safest and most prudent action for the principals will be to create safe spaces in the schools so that children and staff can be “sheltered in place”. There will be no evacuation or movement outside of buildings. (This is different for us, because we have been trained to evacuate and flee in emergencies.) The schools will be locked, with all staff and students in safe places. If this should occur, parents would not be permitted to pick up children, because opening the building will jeopardize the safety of all students. Pick up will follow when local authorities determine the area to be safe. We have been instructed that this kind of response will last from 4 to 8 hours and not days. The principals are ready for this contingency. We hope that parents will be “sheltering” in safe places at home or at work, because the most prudent response for everyone is to stay inside in secure spaces. Let us pray that this will never be a reality.

As this new way of living becomes “normal” let us not forget the most important thing. The focus should be our children. Now is the time to focus on our children and their needs. Now more than ever, they need you to be calm, reasoned and positive. Pause and take time to listen to their concerns and work with them to ease their anxieties. Pray with them. This is a time when prayer is so valuable and you have the opportunity to teach them how to pray for peace. This is the most significant thing you can do for and with your children.

Your continued support for our principals, teachers and staff is critical to maintaining a safe, secure, stable and predictable environment for your children. If something should happen, we need our parents to remain calm, listen to the radio and follow the instructions given by the local authorities. If the Archdiocese makes any special decisions or announcements these will be broadcast on the local news/emergency channels and posted on our website at

It is the ambiguity of the moment that creates the tension we are all experiencing. Yet, we are blessed, because we have the gift of faith. So let us turn to our faith, to what is certain – the power of prayers for peace and our knowledge of God’s love for us.

May the peace of the Lord be with you and with all of our Catholic school families.


Patricia A. Weitzel-O’Neill, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Catholic Schools
Archdiocese of Washington

Jennifer Reed
Office of Communications
[email protected]