Real or not, SF incidents show that school bomb threats are always a serious matter 

click to enlarge Several K-9 units were deployed to Ortega Elementary School on Monday after a handwritten note containing a bomb threat was found on campus. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F EXAMINER
  • Mike koozmin/the s.f examiner
  • Several K-9 units were deployed to Ortega Elementary School on Monday after a handwritten note containing a bomb threat was found on campus.

Teachers, parents and students at Jose Ortega Elementary School had a shock all too familiar upon arriving to school Monday morning: A note containing a bomb threat was found on campus, prompting an evacuation.

It was the second time this school year that such a serious allegation had been made at the school via a note.

Around a dozen officers and several K-9 units were brought in to search the campus for nearly three hours. Ultimately, just as with the incident Oct. 6, the scene was declared safe and classes resumed for the day, Taraval Police Station Capt. Curtis Lum said. Cops from his station had responded to the school.

But the similarity between the two incidents — both notes were written in what is believed to be a child's handwriting — prompted authorities to schedule an assembly or lessons in the classroom in the coming weeks to bring to light for the school's 350 students the gravity of such situations.

"These kinds of things are not a joke," said Lt. Colleen Fatooh, who coordinates the school resource officers program at the Police Department.

False bomb threats are not only dangerous to officers, who respond to such threats as an emergency, but they are expensive, Fatooh noted. Paying a dozen officers for three hours of work costs nearly $2,000, not to mention the financial toll of additional school personnel needed at the scene and the work that parents potentially miss when their kids cannot go to school, Fatooh said.

At the weekly meeting for school resource officers Thursday, Fatooh said she will discuss how the officers can work with school officials to educate students about the severity of bomb threats.

Brent Stephens, an assistant superintendent for the San Francisco Unified School District, said it is unusual for such conversations to happen at an elementary school, particularly because bomb threats seldom occur among younger children.

"This is a very rare occurrence, and in our elementary schools, this just doesn't happen — and yet this has happened twice here," Stephens said. "We want to make sure that the students are aware of the consequences and are thinking seriously about it."

Monday's incident began around 7:35 a.m. when a staff member in the hallway found a small handwritten note that appeared to be the writing of a child, school officials said.

The staff member notified the principal, who in turn called police. The approximately 60 students already on campus were moved to a nearby community center, and parents arriving to drop off their kids at school were told to bring their children home.

Authorities still don't know who wrote the note in October. It's unclear if the same person wrote Monday's note, though school officials are investigating who might have been on campus before school began Monday and will analyze handwriting, SFUSD spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said.

But the two unsolved cases are unsettling for the school community.

"The fact that no one found out why it happened back in October seems problematic now that it happened a second time. It is frustrating," said Kristen Oliver, whose daughter is in third grade at Ortega Elementary.

Another challenge that surfaced in both incidents was a glitch with the district's automated emergency phone system in which Oliver said she and at least a dozen other parents were not notified of the bomb threat until after the scene was cleared.

SFUSD officials said the district is in the final stages of selecting an updated system that will allow the district to communicate via text messages and emails. The new system is expected to be rolled out by the next school year.

About The Author

Laura Dudnick

Bio:
Laura Dudnick, a Bay Area native, covers education and planning for The San Francisco Examiner. She previously worked as a senior local editor for Patch.com, and as the San Mateo County bureau reporter and weekend editor for Bay City News Service.
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Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018

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