A Del Norte High School student created a disturbance in the main building Tuesday when he brandished a toy gun and yelled “Freeze!” according to authorities.
The student produced a Nerf gun and began breaking it and throwing it away, said Crescent City Police Officer Ed Wilson, Del Norte County Unified School District’s school resources officer. His peers, though startled, quickly recognized the gun was a toy, Wilson said.
“He’s an adult student at Del Norte High School and he’s been having some mental health issues in the last several days,” Wilson said. “He came into the main building in the main hall just after lunch started, so there were lots of students around. We counseled and warned the kid and he was given a ride to mental health.”
The student wasn’t arrested and there were no injuries, according to Crescent City Police Chief Ivan Minsal.
But in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, local students are questioning the safety of their own schools, Superintendent Jeff Harris said.
“It does raise anxiety levels on school campuses,” Harris said of the shooting in Florida. “It does bring to question, is the student who expresses frustration, are they likely to do something like this? They start to question those kinds of things. We’ve had some students who’ve been absolutely brilliant in their questions asked about school safety and who have asked school administrators, ‘what do we do if...?’”
Tuesday’s toy gun incident occurred at about 1 p.m., Harris said.
With all the questions students have, Del Norte High School Principal Randy Fugate said school administration is in the process of rehearsing its safety drills with teachers. A new alarm system and new safety protocols are in place, he said, and faculty and staff are hoping to reinforce its policies and procedures.
Fugate said he expects the high school will hold a formal lock down drill within about a week.
High school staff will be notified that someone in the area has a gun either from the district office itself or if a person actually sees someone coming onto campus with a weapon, Fugate said. At that point the teachers come to the doors of their classrooms to usher in any students that may be in the hall, he said. Other teachers would go to the nearest exits and use a special key to lock those doors, Fugate said.
“Teachers, if the doors aren’t already locked, they’ll come to the door, they’ll lock their door and the kids will sit on the floor away from windows and away from doors,” Fugate said, describing the lock down process. “They’ll remain in place until an authority (figure), which would be an administrator or police officer comes into the room. We’ll key in and let them know the drill’s over or the event is over and it’s safe to come out. It will be a physical person they know allowing them the opportunity to come out.”
In an effort to increase security at the high school, Fugate said he has spoken with Harris about the need for some sort of fencing around the campus perimeter. Fugate also brought it before the school board during a presentation at its Feb. 15 meeting.
There are about 13 ways to get into the high school’s main building, Fugate said, and once in awhile he has had to run off transients or vagrants passing through.
“Occasionally we’ll see them come through the back of the school building and right on between the portables to come to the back side or collect cans out of the garbage cans,” Fugate said. “We also have a lot of students that are students from other schools that use it as a passing walk-through area. One of the things we talked about was having some kind of structured fence, which would also be a single access point through the high school.”
Harris noted that with portables and other buildings, the high school has a “little bit of a sprawl,” which may make fencing it a bit difficult. He noted fencing the front is problematic because classroom doors open up onto the parking lot but most unauthorized people access the campus from the back.
Following the construction project at Del Norte High School, Harris said there will be more lighting and surveillance cameras on campus.
“We’ve not had anybody just walk onto campus and pose any threats,” he said. “It has not been a problem since I’ve been here and I haven’t heard that it has been a problem, but I think good practice would be to look at how we can secure the campus more comprehensively.”
Harris noted every major threat that has occurred since he became superintendent about three years ago have been made via email or social media and were not considered credible.
Each school in the district has its own safety plan, Harris said. They are also looking at their drill schedules and determining whether they need to “be more active in drills,” he said.
“Having worked in multiple districts in multiple counties, our schools are as prepared as any other schools that I’ve ever been at,” Harris said. “We do have more open campuses than the other schools in what I would call high crime areas. Schools in the valley tend to be fully fenced, but then again, what you trade with a full fenced school is that sense of community and openness.”
Harris said some students did go home following the toy gun incident at the high school on Tuesday. There are also counselors, school psychologists and other trained professionals available to students if they ever need to talk through their concerns or anxieties, he said.
Another huge message to get out to the community, Harris said, concerns social media.
“In extreme situations social media often acts like the game of telephone,” he said. “Very rarely is the actual incidence or occurrence what gets communicated through social media. If the community hears of an incident or an event and wants to know more about the incident or event, to refer back to the school and district website or to call the school district to get the actual status or information.”
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .