Schools deal with threats of violence in wake of Florida shooting


Administrators for two Bay Area schools kept the doors closed Friday, and a third had early dismissal. This was all due to threats of gun violence at the schools.

Over the past several weeks, there have been more than a dozen such threats. That’s prompting concerns, images from actual shootings such as the one last month in Florida, coupled with anxiety from hoaxes, is pushing students to the breaking point.

The graffiti threatened gun violence at Burlingame Intermediate School Friday, which is an instruction site for a little more than 1,000 students. School district staff conferred with Burlingame police, and the superintendent made the decision to close school.

“If they did keep the school open, there probably would have been a lot of parents who held their kids out anyway. So it would have been a low attendance day,” said Burlingame police captain Mike Matteucci.

The heightened level of angst comes after 17 people were shot and killed at a Parkland, Florida, high school last month. This week, three Bay Area schools had threats of a mass shooting. Martinez Junior High School, and Burlingame Intermediate both closed in response. But James Logan high in Union City held classes, then dismissed early due to what officials believe was a hoax. Real or not, experts say these types of threats do take a toll..

“It’s probably not a good thing to have kids traumatized,” said Doctor Thomas Plante.

The Santa Clara University psychologist says this isn’t the first time school-age children have faced fear stemming from lethal violence. In the shadow of the post World War II arms race,  “Duck and Cover” was the ordained response to the threat of nuclear annihilation. But that may have been more remote, and not seen constantly through the prism of an unyielding news cycle and social media. The current rash of school shootings seems closer to home, and causes more psychological harm, according to Doctor Plante.

“Some kids area going to be highly anxious. They’re going to have behaviors such as inattentiveness, mood dysregulation. They may act out in some way,” Plante said.

Burlingame police say they are investigating the gun violence threat. Even though it was likely a prank, officers say closing schools was a no-brainer..

“Let’s just worry about today. And we’ll worry about copycats later,” said captain Matteucci.

It’s a new worry both police departments and school districts. When one random message means altering the course of the school day for everyone..

“It’s also a constant reminder that schools aren’t safe places to be. And that’s gonna be really hard for a lot of kids who are nervous to begin with,” said Plante.

School resumes at Burlingame Intermediate on Monday. Administrators are allowing a school musical to take place Friday and Saturday without interruption. Officials say if they start getting what appear to be copycat threats just to have school canceled, they’ll then decided if the doors will remain open or close again.