Officials from Clovis Unified School District, the Fresno Police Department, and the FBI told parents and other community members Wednesday evening at Clovis West what actions are being taken to keep students safe in response to three days of phone threats.
The speakers at a hastily scheduled community meeting in the Clovis West multipurpose room included Fresno Police Capt. Mindy Casto, who said the phone calls to local law enforcement agencies appear to be coming from the same person or source and from outside the U.S.
The first call Friday afternoon prompted a rapid and massive response by Fresno police, with terrified parents ringing the northeast Fresno high school and the nearby elementary school, both of which were put on lockdowns.
Similar calls that came Monday morning and again Wednesday morning resulted in more limited lockdowns and shelter in place orders, prompting some concerns by parents.
Kim Davis, mother of a Clovis West 10th grader, told GV Wire she was worried that the school and district weren’t taking the repeated threats as seriously as the first one on Friday.
“My daughter said the lights were out for only two minutes” Wednesday, Davis said.
Making sure doors are locked and turning off lights are two of Clovis Unified’s lockdown protocols.
Every Threat Taken Seriously
After Wednesday morning’s phone threat, the schools resumed normal operations fairly quickly because investigators determined that the call also was a hoax and that students were not in danger, Casto said during the 40-minute community meeting.
“Do we take every threat seriously? Yes. But we also evaluate on a case-by-case basis,” Casto said.
In response to a question about why the district has not closed Clovis West in light of the threatening calls, Superintendent Eimear O’Brien emphasized, “If we thought it was a dangerous place to be, we would close the school. Our schools are safe.”
School and district officials are following long-established safety protocols, including making sure that all students are inside locked classrooms or buildings and monitoring the campus by security cameras.
The disruptions to class time are not only affecting instruction time but also causing stress and fear among students, and school officials told parents that the district can help arrange for psychological help for students who are overwhelmed emotionally.
Kids Are Staying Home
But parents also had some concerns about academics, including: Will all absences be excused? Will the absences affect students’ grades? Principal Eric Swain said absences will be excused, and students will have the opportunity to complete missed assignments or tests.
District spokeswoman Kelly Avants told GV Wire on Tuesday that absences can be costly to the district, which gets its state funding based on daily student attendance.
The question that no one can answer, at least yet, is why Clovis West has been repeatedly targeted by a caller who threatens to come to the school and shoot.
“I think this time it’s luck of the draw, we don’t know for sure yet,” Casto said. “But if we do come up with a reason and identify a person, that’s something we’d certainly convey to the public.”
Trustee Clint Olivier, who represents Area 1 on the School Board that includes Clovis West, was one of four School Board members on hand for the community meeting. Afterward, he said he has been contacted by parents concerned about the impact the calls and lockdowns are having on their children.
Parents aren’t talking about boosting security, such as fencing, firearms, or other measures to keep kids safe, Olivier said: “Mostly, it’s ‘my kid is scared.’ … I can imagine it’s a horrifying experience to go through if you’re a young person who finds himself in this situation. And so the questions I’ve received have mostly been to convey that kind of emotion.’
Lockdowns Also at Fort Washington
The days have been emotionally fraught not only for Clovis West students and staff, but also for the youngsters at nearby Fort Washington Elementary, where similar lockdowns and shelter in place orders have been issued in lockstep with Clovis West’s.
Asked whether he thought parents and students at Fort Washington, which has not been named in the phone call threats, have been unnecessarily frightened with the heightened security actions, Olivier said he is depending on the expertise of the district and police to determine the appropriate responses.
“At this point I’m still like everyone else. I’m learning and gaining information and not in a position to criticize and call folks out, because this is still, it’s really still happening. And we’re hoping and praying that it stops. But I’m going to reserve judgment until hopefully after these calls stop.”