Principal: Online post ‘threatened a shooting’ at Berkeley High on Thursday

Berkeley High School, February 2018 Photo by Nancy Rubin
Berkeley High’s A gate will be closed Friday after an online poster threatened a shooting incident, said Principal Erin Schweng. Photo: Nancy Rubin

Update, Friday, 1 p.m. Berkeley High Principal Erin Schweng said the campus has been “calm” Friday following a scare over an online threat of a campus shooting Thursday. The Berkeley Police and other law enforcement are continuing to investigate the threat and its credibility. Schweng said police advised her not to release additional information about the content of the threat or where it was posted.

“I’ve been in a bunch of classrooms and kids are here, and they’re doing well,” Schweng said early Friday afternoon. She said many families had contacted her to figure out whether to keep their kids home from school, and some did ultimately choose to.

After receiving the threat, Berkeley High decided to permanently close the “A gate” on Allston Way to people entering the campus, Schweng said. Students will enter through the main office door from now on. The cautionary measure had already been under discussion for some time, the principal said, but the incident prompted staff to implement the change and leave the details to be hashed out later. There will still be a safety officer stationed by the A gate, and it will continue to function as an exit.

Schweng also met Friday with student leaders who are organizing a walkout March 14 in conjunction with protests happening at schools across the country.


“They’re amazing, which I already knew,” said Schweng of the student organizers. “They’re really focused on two things — honoring victims of the Parkland shooting and showing solidarity.” The students are thinking of making a human peace-sign in the courtyard or football field during the walkout, which will last 17 minutes in honor of the number of victims in Florida. Some teachers and staff will join the group, and others will stay behind with students who don’t want to participate, Schweng said.

Update, Friday, 12:15 p.m. The day after law enforcement began investigating an online threat about a shooting incident at Berkeley High School, Principal Erin Schweng sent the following update to the school community. Police have not determined whether the online post, which threatened a Thursday incident, was credible, Shweng said, and have stationed officers around the campus Friday. Berkeleyside has contacted Schweng and will update this story if more information is provided. 

Good morning BHS families,

I’m writing this morning to say that we have safely begun school, and to provide a few more details about the threat we reported to you yesterday. What we can say right now is that the threat was made online, and was reported to the Berkeley Police Department by a partnering law enforcement agency. That agency made BPD aware, who then notified us. Many of you have asked about how we determine whether or not a threat is credible enough to take some sort of immediate action such as dismissing school. The short answer is that in these situations we remain in constant communication with law enforcement and depend on their expertise to help us keep this community safe. The threat in question specified yesterday as the time frame, and we still do not have information that would indicate the threat will actually materialize, but we will have extra BPD presence throughout the day today around campus and remain in constant contact with law enforcement and district partners.

I also want to let you know that we have planned for and will be holding a lockdown drill on Tuesday, March 6, at approximately 9:45 a.m. My goal in communicating to you about this drill, especially in light of the last few days and weeks, is that our community knows what will be expected both during that drill and in others to come.

Our district follows the industry-standard ALICE protocol for an armed intruder situation, and I hope a bit of information about this protocol is helpful to you here. ALICE is an acronym that stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. It is important to note that these elements are not meant to be taken in a linear manner, and that one of the most powerful principles of this protocol is that with the proper information about the threat, students and staff are empowered to make choices to protect themselves and potentially save their lives. For example, if an intruder is known to be in one part of the campus, only students in immediate danger would proceed with the Lockdown part of the protocol, while those farther away would be directed and encouraged to Evacuate off campus. You can find out more about the ALICE research base and methodology here: https://www.alicetraining.com/.

A fully-fledged practice of the entire protocol at BHS has not been done before and requires logistics and resources that we are still putting in place, so we will begin Tuesday with two parts of the protocol that everyone will need to know: Alert and Lockdown. I will announce the beginning of the drill over the PA system, and students and teachers will follow a process to lock and barricade doors, shelter in the safest parts of the rooms they are in, and await further instructions. We have sent staff a video which I am also attaching here that shows clearly how this can be done, and does a good job giving an overview of the entire ALICE protocol. I’ll note that even though the video includes no actual footage but rather actors portraying an active shooter situation, it is still difficult to watch and contemplate. We will, as I promised students and staff, collect data on this drill to learn from it for future drills, and to prepare for at least one additional, more involved drill this school year.


I will close by thanking many of you who have written with ideas and offers of support. In particular, many parents have wondered how to stand in solidarity with students during a potential March 14 action in honor of the lives lost in Florida. We are meeting with student leaders today to plan, so I hope to have news about this for you soon. Finally, I will share that as I have watched and listened to the new generation of student activists being created before our eyes in these past weeks, I have had an incredibly strong sense of recognition: our BHS students are equally passionate, engaged and ready to be the driving force of creating the world that they deserve to live in. As sobering and frightening as this subject is to attend to, I am honored and proud to do it in order to serve the incredible young people we work with.

Thank you,

Erin

Original story, Thursday, 5:45 p.mBerkeley High School Principal Erin Schweng sent the following message out to families, staff and students around 3:40 p.m. Thursday, via the School Messenger system and the e-tree:

Good Afternoon Families,

I’m writing to share information with you about a situation we have been dealing with this afternoon, in collaboration with our Berkeley Police Department partners. Around 12:30 p.m., I was notified by our school resource officer that an anonymous tip was received about an internet posting that threatened a shooting incident at Berkeley High School today. While we do not know who made the post or whether the threat is credible, we immediately closed entrances to all but the main office, and posted additional safety staff and administrators around the perimeter. We will had [sic] extra BPD presence surrounding our perimeter during dismissal and they will remain throughout the evening. We are not cancelling today’s after-school and evening events at BHS.


Sadly, there has been a surge in threats, tips and false alarms since the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, and despite the high likelihood that today’s threat will not materialize, we nevertheless have to respond immediately with appropriate resources. My aim is not to be alarmist, but simply to let you know that we are taking this matter extremely seriously and prioritizing student safety over all.

We remain in constant communication with law enforcement partners this afternoon as we work to make additional determinations about the credibility of this anonymous report. As more information comes in, it will directly impact our decisions going forward, and I will write again soon with whatever is relevant and appropriate to share. In the meantime, our staff will remain vigilant.

As an additional precaution, beginning tomorrow we will close the A gate on Allston Way during instructional hours; students and staff entering campus during this time should come through the main office.

I am very aware that communications like these are incredibly unsettling to receive, and I want to acknowledge that. It is with a heavy heart that I even write this at all.

Thank you, and a huge thank you to our safety staff and BPD for their support today.

Correction: This story initially said the letter was sent out at 4:40 p.m. It was sent around 3:40 p.m.