Lockdown at CHHS incites unease among student body

Due+to+the+confusion%2C+even+between+teachers+and+administration%2C+some+classes+were+under+the+impression+that+the+school+was+in+full+lockdown+mode+during+the+perceived+threat.

Photo by Rae Lawrence

Due to the confusion, even between teachers and administration, some classes were under the impression that the school was in full lockdown mode during the perceived threat.

It was a normal afternoon of school at Columbia Heights High School until a lockdown was announced midday on Friday, September 10. A student reported a possible armed man inside the high school to the Columbia Heights Police Department.

“Within a minute the CHHS School Resource Officer placed the CHHS school and campus on lockdown, per protocol for further investigation,” a joint press release from the school and the CHPS stated. After officers arrived and spoke to students and administration, they did not believe there a credible threat. 

While police were investigating, staff and students were held back in their third block classes. Principal Todd Wynne asked teachers to keep doors shut and locked but continue teaching and regular class activities. It wasn’t until a later announcement that students were allowed to use the bathroom, but only if they were escorted by a staff member. Over an hour after the lockdown was announced, the high school reverted back to its normal schedule.

The initial lockdown announcement over the school’s loudspeaker brought confusion since lockdown protocols under the building’s new principal (not to mention the first full return to the building since March 2020 due to COVID-19) had yet to be communicated to staff. 

“I thought the lockdown was because of students being late to class,” said social studies teacher Ms. Kristen Snicariello. 

Due to the chaotic nature of the first week back at school, some teachers assumed it was a drill while others took it more seriously. Students who were located in the lunchroom without a clear staff member in charge during the lockdown didn’t know what was happening. 

“Even if we didn’t know what was going on I remained calm and didn’t want to jump to conclusions,” CHHS student Xitlaly Montero (10) said.

Principal Wynne shared in an interview with The Heights Herald that because of the quick and immediate response by both school administration and the CHPD, students and faculty were safe throughout the lockdown. 

“When we were told about the threat, I had to make the decision to put the school on lockdown,” Wynne said. 

Safety measurements were taken and no one was hurt or in danger, but there was still a lot of panic and confusion among students because of the insufficient information regarding the reasons behind the lockdown. 

Assistant Principal Matt Miller emailed teachers a photo asking for their help in identifying an individual caught on camera, but other than that, neither the Columbia Heights High Police Department nor CHHS administration provided more information to The Heights Herald about the lack of communication between staff, teachers and students. 

At least one parent, however, did attempt to come to the school to retrieve their students once the lockdown was in place and the aforementioned press release was sent out.

“There is a lot of misunderstanding about the lockdown,” CHHS resource officer Mr. Jason Piehn said. “We didn’t let students go [home] with their parents because we were still investigating the case to discern whether the threat was real or not. We couldn’t let parents take their kids back home because it would’ve interrupted the investigation.”

Information about the lockdown was sent out to parents over email by Principal Wynne shortly after it was instated, while the police department was discerning the credibility of the threat.  

The uncertainty that students face going back to in-person learning perhaps poses a larger threat than previously anticipated. Not only is COVID still a health risk, many schools are also facing lockdowns for an array of reasons. Multiple Minnesota schools have been put on lockdown this academic year, including Alberto Iwa High School, Chanhassen High School and Richfield High School.  The uncertainty and apprehensions that so many students and staff are facing going back to their buildings for the first time in almost 18 months is real. 

The sudden lockdown on September 10 made it a stressful day for staff, parents and students alike. Now it’s just a question of how CHHS can better prepare for future potential threats.