Just one day after schools in Tempe were put into lockdown, Mesa’s Dobson High School was partially evacuated Friday following a bomb threat.
School and police officials said they collaborate to determine when to ask school principals and teachers to lock their doors and keep students away from potential harm.
“We work together with the schools to try to determine, for the safety of the students and staff, when it would be best to lockdown a school, depending on the situation,” said Mesa Police’s Det. Steve Berry.
Friday’s lockdown of Dobson High was prompted after a student made a comment about a bomb during class, Berry said. It was heard by students and his teacher, who contacted the school resource officer — a licensed Mesa Police officer — who was on campus.
“The boy was detained. The wheels were set in motion to make sure this was not a credible threat,” Berry said. “Once he realized he was going to be taken serious, that this was not a joke, he tried to recant. That’s not going to stop us from moving forward to assure everything is safe.”
After students were evacuated from parts of the school — and other parts were put on lockdown — police determined it was safe to return to class.
Since December’s tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., East Valley school officials say they are fielding more calls and questions from parents about safety.
“Since December, many people are on heightened alert mode,” Tempe Elementary School District spokesperson Monica Allread said. “Parents want to know anything that happens at the school that’s out of the ordinary. We’re working hard to make sure they know that.”
Mesa Unified School District spokesperson Helen Hollands said there are a few reasons for lockdowns in a school.
“There are lockdowns that happen because of an external incident. That would be if police are dealing with a suspect in an area. Those are always called by the law enforcement agency,” she said. “The other would be if we go into a lockdown for a campus related or internal reason. Most of the time, it’s a collaboration between the school district and the police or law enforcement agency to decide if it’s appropriate to go into lockdown.”
A school principal may also put a school in lockdown if there is an active situation, she said.
“If the event is active and there is an immediate threat or danger, the site administrator would call the lockdown immediately and then notify police,” she said.
After the Sandy Hook shooting, the Mesa school district decided to move up plans to do a campus-by-campus safety analysis. The Mesa school district governing board will hear that report Tuesday during a work study session that begins after an executive session at 5 p.m.
“That will look at what we need to do to make our sites physically more safe for students and staff,” Hollands said.
The district is also looking at the policies, procedures, practices and protocol that are used on campuses.
“That’s underway right now. That will be a report that could change protocol. Sometimes it’s helping to close a gap between practice and protocol,” she said.
Tempe’s Allread said during the last two school years, she sent out three letters each year notifying parents that a lockdown took place. This year, including Thursday’s incident, she has already sent out five.
A handful of schools in Tempe were put on lockdown while police searched an area for a suspect from a road rage incident.
Mesa didn’t have a count of the number of lockdowns used so far this school year as of press time.
Allread said the Tempe Elementary School District looked at its safety and security measures last summer.
“But we’re always looking a safety and security and certainly after what happened in December, we took a look at what they had in place and tried to learn any lessons we could,” she said.
The 16-year-old student detained by police could face charges, Mesa Police’s Berry said. The student could also face punishment from the district, from a short suspension to expulsion, depending on the circumstances, Hollands said.
“At this point, without having any due process evaluation, I couldn’t say where within this guideline it would fall. It has a range, because you need to take into account all the mitigating circumstances,” she said.
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