Student, staff reactions to shelter-in-place


A police officer talks with students as they regroup during brunch today near the Palo Alto High School Library. Officers were called onto campus to investigate an anonymous shooter threat taped to a social studies classroom door. According to history teacher Jack Bungarden, the administration handled the response to the threat in an adequate manner. “The leadership of the school did an excellent job of responding,” Bungarden said. “There were problems with communication and some clarity and some confusion. But even if we were well trained and well prepared, and this is part of the scenario that we had practiced, there’s still going to be an element of that. Perfection is hard to achieve.” (Photo: Leena Hussein)

Anna Feng, Senior Staff Writer

Additional reporting by Evan Chien, Maxwell Zhang, Sophia Yang and Celina Lee. 

Students and staff are expressing mixed reactions about the shelter-in-place order after the discovery this morning of a shooting threat posted outside a classroom at Palo Alto High School.

According to a Palo Alto Police Department press release at 12:26 p.m., officers received a call at 8:57 a.m. this morning about a written threat of violence taped on the front door of Room 806, the Advanced Placement Psychology classroom. The threat indicated that the person who left the note intended to “shoot up” the classroom at 9:15 a.m. Administrators issued a shelter-in-place request over the public announcement system at 9:16 a.m. while officers investigated the situation. At 10:25 a.m. school officials lifted the shelter-in-place and officers remained on campus for the rest of the school day.

Science teacher Margaret Deng was teaching when the announcement was made and said she interpreted the shelter-in-place as a lockdown order.

“It [the announcement] was really hard to hear actually, but we did hear it,” Deng said. “We heard the word shelter in place, and I was like ‘Great, it’s a lockdown’ because the admin[istrators] actually just never told us the difference between a lockdown and a shelter in place. They also said on the announcement, close all your blinds and your windows and lock the doors and then I did not hear the part where they said teach as usual.”

Deng said a lack of clear communication about the protocols to follow during the shelter-in-place made her feel unprepared. 

“I was actually texting an admin during the thing [the shelter-in-place], but there was no overall email from admin or texts from admin [for the first half hour],” Deng said. “So, as a teacher, I felt like I was getting kept in the dark because I had no idea what was going on. I found out a lot of what was happening from the students.”

According to history teacher Jack Bungarden the confusion pertaining to the response could be attributed to the uncertainty of the situation. 

“Part of what was an issue is we [teachers] don’t really discuss it,” Bungarden said. “Everyone knows lockdown because that’s been discussed. So, teachers know how they’re supposed to respond. What that [shelter-in-place] is supposed to connote is when there’s a danger in the environment, shelter-in-place is just one of the ways to always stay indoors, until whatever the danger is has dissipated.” 

As a result of not having blinds over the door windows in her classroom, Deng said she was told by administrators through text to keep the lights off and pause teaching while she had her students hide out of sight from the door.

“I had a few of them [her students] help me put the door jams up,” Deng said. “They [the students] also were just trying to get as much information from their phones as possible and keeping me updated, which was good.” 

Sophomore Izzy Bienaime, who is in Deng’s first period Chemistry Honors class, said she thought the shelter-in-place was an earthquake drill and hid under her desk. Bienaime also said the lack of clarity with the announcement made the situation stressful.

“I didn’t know that you were just supposed to shelter-in-place, so I think the fact that she [Deng] had us locked down just made me really stressed out,” Bienaime said. “To know that there was a potential shooter at the school made me so stressed out.” 

Bungarden said the response of the administration was handled well given the unique situation.

“To their [Paly administrators] credit, I would argue, the circumstances didn’t really warrant a lockdown,” Bungarden said. “But it also did not warrant business as usual, and so what they devised on the spot was sort of this interim solution.”

According to Bienaime, the shelter-in-place was not taken seriously by everyone. 

“There were some students who listened and went into the corner and there were other students who were being really carefree,” Bienaime said. “I thought it was a lockdown, so I thought that if the shooter saw my classmate through the window, we were all dead.” 

Despite having experienced a similar incident about a potential shooter when she was a student at Gunn High School, Deng said the communication protocols for informing staff and students have not improved. 

“We were kept on campus for at least two hours when school had already been out … and no one knew it was happening because phones weren’t as prevalent back then,” Deng said. “So, in the 10 or 15 years that have passed, you would think that we would have a little better communication, but it kind of feels about the same as it did back then.”