Classes and extracurricular activities at Lafayette High will resume Friday after an anonymous threat turned a planned drill turned into a real, hours long lockdown Thursday, creating confusion among parents and students at the parish’s largest high school.
The lockdown began around 8:55 a.m. when an anonymous, threatening phone call was made concerning the school, Jennifer Gardner, chief administrative officer for the Lafayette Parish School System, said in a Thursday evening issued statement.
It was never specified by either law enforcement or the school system what the threat was.
The Lafayette Police Department and the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office responded, closing off the school’s entrances and exits.
Students were required to remain in their classrooms and were escorted to the restrooms as needed, Gardner said. Students were not served lunch because of the cafeteria’s location and the inability to “safely move students across campus through open areas.”
Extracurricular activities were canceled and at the end of the day students were released in waves beginning around 1:45 p.m. until after 4 p.m. as the final students were collected by their parents, Gardner said. Adjustments were made as school staff coordinated with law enforcement to determine the safest methods.
“We did a multiphase release for student safety and protection,” Gardner said. “We did what was in the best interest of that campus.”
Shuttle buses from David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy were canceled and students had to be picked up by their parents.
As the lockdown dragged on, rumors floated around social media and online parent groups.
Gardner sent a message to parents at about 12:30 p.m. assuring families their children were safe. The school system took the opportunity to dispel rumors surrounding possible arrests and weapons.
“No arrests have been made. There have been no weapons found on campus,” she said.
One rumor said a man approached by law enforcement on campus was linked to the threat, while another theory said he was an armed robbery suspect that fled to the school to evade law enforcement.
Lt. John Mowell with the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office said the man was detained after reports of a suspicious person on campus and he was questioned and later released. He was not arrested and did not have a connection to the threat against the school, he said.
Lisa Voorhies Blackburn, whose son Alex is a sophomore at Lafayette High, said her son thought the lockdown was part of a scheduled drill until she text messaged him local news media reports. Parents were notified via a robocall Wednesday night that a lockdown drill would be taking place at an unspecified time Thursday, she said.
Alex remained in the same classroom for the rest of the day and wasn’t released for lunch. While some parents were upset by the situation, Blackburn said she could understand the need to keep the students in one place. If officials believed there was a real threat, being hungry is better than dying, she said.
Her frustration was with the lack of explicit information being shared by the school system. While LPSS and Lafayette High called parents with information incrementally, Blackburn said parents would have felt comforted if they had a better understanding of the potential threat at hand.
“Rumors get started when parents and students are on their cell phones and are texting back and forth and posting on social media. You need to have someone say explicitly, ‘This is what we’re dealing with.’ But it was always very vague,” Blackburn said. “I think parents want to know exactly what the threat is, not just that there has been a threat.”
The mother said being in touch with her 16-year-old was comforting.
“I’m not the type of parent who gets overly worried. I went to a huge school where bomb threats and other threats being called in occasionally was normal … But with the changing times and these situations really happening in schools across the country, it’s disconcerting,” Blackburn said.
Gardner said the school system shared what information they could with parents but specifics about the incident had to be limited so law enforcement could act appropriately, and student safety could be maintained.
“Every threat we receive we’re going to always take seriously for the safety of our kids,” she said. “When you look at the big picture of today, every kid got home safe.”