School faced with even more threats

Christine Oh, Vidhima Shetty, Kate Hong and Rachel Pak, Staff Writers

A series of four shooting threats targeting Cal High this month have shaken students and staff and resulted in the lowest attendance in school history.

San Ramon police and the FBI continue to investigate threats that led to about 80 percent of Cal’s 2,811 students staying away from campus on May 9.

“We’ve never been through something like this before,” assistant principal Catie Hawkins said. “This is a national crisis and that reality generates real fear.”

The first threat was written in a World Language bathroom on May 1. But it wasn’t until graffiti was found within a week of the threatened May 9 attack, specifying the method and targets of the shooting, that many students made the decision to not attend school.

The third threat, discovered in a Fine Arts bathroom on May 8, read: “Tommorow [Sic], library will be shot up first, then courtyard and then myself.” It was followed by a racial slur.

The proximity of the threats to the May 7 shooting at a   Colorado high school that left one dead and eight injured was also a significant influence for the rising fear among students.

“Everyone I knew was not going to school [on May 9],” junior Fatima Osman said. “Conversation about [the shooting] made me sense that something would happen. It was nerve-wracking.” 

In light of the seriousness of the threats, there was an increased police presence and FBI on campus on May 9-10.

“It was really weird,” said freshman Aly Gonzales, who was among the few hundred students at school on May 9. “There were FBI, and they were all wearing their badges.”

Added AP  US History teacher Scott Hodges, “I honestly felt a little nervous before coming in, but once I was [on campus], I felt very safe, partly because of the [police] presence.”

On a typical day, fewer than 10 percent of students are absent from school, Principal Chris George said. But with about 80 percent of students absent on May 9, the district granted Cal a waiver for  any absences related to student safety as excused so the school didn’t lose money.

“Safety is more important than funding,” George said. 

More threating graffiti was discovered on campus on May 16, indicating there would be a shooting on Thursday, May 27. Even though May 27 was a Monday and a holiday because of Memorial Day, this last threat resulted in the school increasing a police presence on campus through Friday, George wrote in an email to parents and staff. 

He also indicated that the school would be installing more security cameras on campus before next school year, and that staff and students would receive additional safety training.

“We don’t have any leads [on who made] the first and third threats,” San Ramon police Cpl. Mike Pistello said. “With the second incident, where the threatening message was written with tape, there were some freshman who were identified as responsible.” 

Cpl. Pistello affirmed that the threat was nothing more than a prank, as nothing happened on May 9.

“People are going to play pranks and do stupid things, which this was. [It] was a very distasteful joke,” Cpl. Pistello said. “These things aren’t acceptable. It causes a lot of stress for teachers, students, and law enforcement.”

Consequences for students who make such threats are immediate suspension and being recommended for expulsion to the school board, assistant principal Catie Hawkins said.

“The protocol is pretty firm right now,” Hawkins said. “The board is extraordinarily serious about these issues.”

The fallout from having about 80 percent of the student body, or approximately 2,250  students absent, was severe for teachers since many of them were forced to readjust their teaching curriculum and their schedules because of the lack of students in class.

Students taking the scheduled AP Psychology and AP Chemistry tests were also provided with the option of taking the tests on May 22. Some students still decided to take the test on May 9, while many others waited.

“It disrupted a day of instruction and education,” Hawkins said.

Unfortunately, threatening graffiti warning of a possible shooting was found at Diablo Vista Middle School in Danville on May 20. Cpl. Pistello expects more copycat scenarios like this to continue in the future.

“We should anticipate that people are going to play pranks,” Cpl. Pistello said. “This is something that could and probably will happen again.”