‘It’s unsettling. It happens too much.’
Taravella High gun scare is latest to rattle parents, educators
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
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.
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
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.
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.