Peoples Academy went into lockdown last Friday after graffiti that appeared to threaten gun violence was discovered in a school bathroom.
Police are investigating, and it is unclear whether the threat was a joke or credible, and whether it was related to a social media “challenge” calling for students to wreak havoc nationwide by making threats of school shootings or bombings on Dec. 17.
“We’ve increased our patrol inside and outside the high school and middle level campus and will continue to do so until the investigation is completed,” Morristown Police Department interim chief Jason Luneau said Tuesday.
The graffiti in the bathroom, in what appears to be either pencil or charcoal on a white concrete wall, read, “I Have a gun It’s Hapaning (sic) today.”
The graffiti was discovered in the morning of Dec. 17 after school had already begun, and the high school and middle school campus went immediately into lockdown mode. An email was sent to families at 10:45 a.m. informing them of the lockdown.
At 12:11 p.m., the school sent another email saying students were dismissed early and sports and other extracurricular activities were being postponed, “out of an abundance of caution and in consultation with local law enforcement.”
Morristown police were on site for the dismissal and maintained a presence at the school this week, both outside the school and inside. Luneau said he has heard positive feedback about the police presence at the school this week.
The day before the graffiti-spurred lockdown, a “challenge” on the popular social media TikTok called for students across the country to make threats against their schools on Friday. Luneau said he had not heard of any actual violence locally.
Lamoille South Superintendent Ryan Heraty sent a letter to parents and others the night before the lockdown informing them that Vermont Secretary of Education Dan French had told school officials about “non-credible” threats circulating on TikTok.
Heraty said educators did not think there was any risk to safety and school would be in session Friday. He urged parents and guardians to be vigilant and open with their kids.
“If you believe your child is active on social media and you feel it’s appropriate, please have a conversation with them to make them aware of this situation,” Heraty wrote last Thursday. “We take these types of situations very seriously and collaborate closely with all of our school safety stakeholders to provide an open, safe and welcoming environment. The safety of your children and our staff is our number one priority.”
As Peoples Academy went into lockdown Friday, Lamoille North superintendent Cat Gallagher sent a message to parents in that district saying there had been no threats in any of their kids’ schools. The day before, Gallagher also sent a similar message to parents.
“This situation serves as a good example of why it is important to avoid sharing posts online that refer to school safety threats. Even if they are not credible threats, they can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety for our students, families and staff,” she wrote.
Heraty said that, first thing on Monday, students were given the opportunity to “debrief the events” with trusted adults during their first period classes, and the counseling team and school psychologist were on hand should anyone need to process things.
He said Tuesday’s attendance rate was about 98 percent, “which is above the norm,” and all extracurricular activities were back.
Heraty said the district has trained and planned for such incidents and, just a few days prior to the lockdown, the district had a safety audit with a Vermont Agency of Education official. He praised high school principal Phil Grant and middle level principal Matt Young for their leadership during the incident.
“Mr. Grant and Mr. Young were extremely prepared and their fidelity to the drill schedule and summer planning was seen in the smooth response,” Heraty said.