‘It’s un­set­tling. It hap­pens too much.’

Tar­avella High gun scare is lat­est to rat­tle par­ents, ed­u­ca­tors

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Lisa J. Huri­ash & Caitlin R. McGlade Staff writ­ers

A teenager with a replica gun touched off a scare early Thurs­day at J.P. Tar­avella High School, prompt­ing dozens of of­fi­cers in tac­ti­cal gear to swarm the cam­pus and throngs of stu­dents to be evac­u­ated, po­lice said.

Stu­dents turned off the lights, bar­ri­caded them­selves in class­rooms and re­as­sured one an­other to stay calm as they hun­kered down for hours at the Co­ral Springs school. No one was hurt.

It was the lat­est lock­down amid a string of scares at South Florida schools over the past year, whether hoaxes or the real thing. In Thurs­day’s case, the fresh­man­with the toy gu­n­acted in­dif­fer­ent to­wardthe sit­u­a­tion, po­lice said. He­was taken into cus­tody on the charge of dis­rupt­ing the school day, a sec­ond-de­gree mis­de­meanor.

“It’s un­set­tling. It hap­pens too much,” said Ter­ryPolk, one of the par­ents ea­ger to be re­united

“Peo­ple were a lit­tle scared, but ev­ery­one helped ev­ery­one calm down.” Ash­ley Soto, Tar­avella stu­dent

year.

Ear­lier this week at Tar­avella, a stu­dent posted on so­cial me­dia that there would be a shoot­ing on cam­pus. In that case, the stu­dent was iden­ti­fied and ad­mit­ted the threat was a hoax.

Statewide, pub­lic schools re­ported about 1,790 in­ci­dents last year where a stu­dent had a weapon on cam­pus. Broward re­ported 405 cases, Dade re­ported 56 and Palm Beach County schools re­ported 173. That left Broward with the largest ra­tio of weapons in­ci­dents in South Florida — roughly 15 per ev­ery 10,000 stu­dents.

Broward School Board mem­ber Ros­alind Os­good said she felt pow­er­less when she heard the news from Tar­avella High on Thurs­day. She has been brain­storm­ing re­cently with school and com­mu­nity lead­ers about how to quell the vi­o­lence that plagues class­rooms, she said.

On Wed­nes­day, she and other com­mu­nity lead­ers plan to host a sum­mit at Dil­lard High in Fort Laud­erdale for kids who start fights at their schools. The kids will be bused from schools in her district to dis­cuss why some re­sort to vi­o­lence.

The hope is that events like the one planned will turn those stu­dents into am­bas­sadors for peace. “If they can start th­ese fights, they can stop them,” Os­good said. “To­day was a clear pic­ture of why it has to be done.”

School dis­tricts in South Florida have taken more steps in re­cent years to iden­tify the root cause of stu­dent mis­be­hav­ior.

Mi­ami-Dade ended out­of­sus­pen­sions and opened what the district calls “Suc­cess Cen­ters,” where stu­dents can get be­hav­ioral in­ter­ven­tion and stay on track with school work at the same time.

And Broward and Palm Beach County schools have greatly re­duced school sus­pen­sions.

Broward elim­i­nated its zero-tol­er­ance pol­icy years ago, which en­forced penal­ties with no ex­cep­tions and of­fered lit­tle to no sup­port if a stu­dent broke rules; trained staff to help stu­dents with be­hav­ioral is­sues; and opened the Pine Ridge Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter to pro­vide be­hav­ior man­age­ment to stu­dents who oth­er­wise­would have been ar­rested for their ac­tions.

And Palm Beach County, among tak­ing other steps, in­tro­duced be­hav­ioral coaches at schools with high sus­pen­sion rates.

Palm Beach County schools had seven gun-re­late­d­in­ci­dents fromthe­be­gin­ning of this school year un­til the end ofMarch and nine the year be­fore, the district said.

More than 3,100stu­dents are en­rolled at Tar­avella, 10600 River­side Drive. Thurs­day’s in­ci­dent be­gan just be­fore 7:30 a.m., when a stu­dent re­ported see­ing a shiny metal hand­gun on cam­pus.

SWATof­fi­cers fromCo­ral Springs Po­lice and the Broward Sher­iff’s Of­fice, armed with ri­fles, con­verged on the school. For­est Hills El­e­men­tary, a few miles away, al­sowas locked down as a pre­cau­tion.

Ash­ley Soto, an 18-year-old se­nior, said stu­dents be­gan run­ning when the school prin­ci­pal an­nounced over the speaker sys­tem, “Code red. We’re on lock­down.”

She said that for part of the morn­ing, she was locked in the band locker room with at least 50 other kids; one stu­dent had an

asthma at­tack. “Peo­ple were a lit­tle scared, but ev­ery­one helped ev­ery­one calm down,” Soto said.

Stu­dents looked on as dozens of of­fi­cers searched room by room for the re­ported gun­man.

Delvin Dorcely, 14, a fresh­man, was in his dig­i­tal­class when they re­ceived the alert. Stu­dents pushed a fil­ing cabi­net and chairs to bar­ri­cade the door and sat qui­etly “wait­ing for ev­ery­thing to pass over.”

Lineth Castillo, a 17-year-old ju­nior, said she hid with other stu­dents in a back roomin the li­brary.

More than 100 par­ents gath­ered out­side the cam­pus, many of them re­peat­edly check­ing their phones for text mes­sages or up­dates.

Tracy Needle­man, the mother of a fresh­man, said she­was anx­ious she­wasn’t get­ting in­for­ma­tion while wait­ing out­side the school.

Needle­man re­ceived a text to call a school in­for­ma­tion hot­line. When she did, the num­ber was busy. Wip­ing away tears, she said, “It’s gonna be busy, huh? That’s a nice par­ent hot­line, huh?”

Po­lice later tracked down the teen sus­pect, who said he tossed the toy gun in a garbage can on the pa­tio, the po­lice re­port said. Of­fi­cers found it and took it into ev­i­dence.

Ul­ti­mately, many of Tar­avella’s stu­dents were taken by bus to the city-owned Co­ral Springs Gym­na­sium. By lunchtime, they had been re­united with their par­ents.

Tar­avella prin­ci­pal Ja­son Nault emailed par­ents to as­sure them “ad­di­tional se­cu­rity mea­sures will be in place” when school re­sumes to­day. Nault also wrote to par­ents that it­was other stu­dents who alerted au­thor­i­ties about the pos­si­ble gun on cam­pus.

CARLINE JEAN/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER CARLINE JEAN/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

A woman kisses her son at Co­ral Springs Gym­na­sium af­ter un­con­firmed in­for­ma­tion that some­one at J.P. Tar­avella High School was armed. Stu­dents were bused there for par­ents pickup. Carline Jean/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

JOE CAVARETTA/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

A woman, top, kisses her son at Co­ral Springs Gym­na­sium, where stu­dents were brought by bus Thurs­day af­ter some­one re­ported see­ing a gun on the cam­pus of J.P. Tar­avella High School. Above, anx­ious par­ents wait out­side the school. The gun turned out to be a replica.

CARLINE JEAN/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

JOE CAVARETTA/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

At top, par­ents wait to pick up stu­dents at the Co­ral Springs Gym­na­sium, where stu­dents were taken af­ter Thurs­day’s gun scare at Tar­avella. Above, stu­dents and par­ents wait out­side af­ter the school, 10600 River­side Drive in Co­ral Springs, was evac­u­ated.

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