Emmeline Mullins had big plans for Friday, her last day at Bothell High School before her family relocates to Phoenix.
The 16-year-old student government leader was going to wear a sweater with a candy cane holder attached and the abominable snowman on the front for “Ugly Sweater” day. She had gifts for her teachers, and goodbyes for her friends.
Instead, she spent the day at home, one of thousands of students around the Seattle area and country who saw classes unexpectedly canceled this week after school administrators became aware of threats of violence. At Bothell High, where graffiti threatening violence was found twice, it was the second closure this month.
“I’m sad to go out like this,” Mullins said.
The closures in Bothell and at high schools in Seattle, Lynnwood and other cities nationwide come less than a month after a 15-year-old shot and killed four of his classmates at a school just outside of Detroit late last month. This week, educators were also on alert after rumors circulated of a TikTok trend encouraging students’ to commit acts of violence at school. The platform told USA Today that it hasn’t found any evidence of this content.
In Seattle, Franklin High School was closed for two days this week after threats were discovered on social media. Administrators canceled the first day, and educators then called out sick en masse the next day, forcing a second day of closure. Educators also banded together and closed Cleveland High School on Friday. Three different threats had been reported at the school since October but administrators hadn’t canceled classes.
The district said the threats at Seattle schools have so far not been credible.
Seattle police arrested a 17-year-old girl in connection with a threat at Franklin, who admitted the threat posted to social media was a hoax, according to the Police Department’s blotter. She was released to her parents as the county prosecutor’s office reviews her case.
The Seattle Police Department also investigated unsubstantiated threats at three other schools this week, arresting students after learning of “unrelated” threats made in online classes at Ingraham High School and Whitman Middle School, according to the department’s blotter. On Wednesday, police also investigated a “potential threat” at Rainier Beach High School that did not result in a closure, according to the department.
About half of Franklin High staff didn’t show Thursday, a day after classes were canceled. Some educators and staff didn’t show up because, they said, they needed time to process the events and focus on mental health and student voices. Some educators were also frustrated because the district had staff stay at the school while police were investigating the threat, and before it was determined to be a hoax.
“The message was clear that it was more important to SPS that they can monitor the staff than it was to protect them, even when there are no students present in the building,” Franklin educators said in a statement. “Even if the threat was truly neutralized last night, more needed to be done for us to feel prepared to reenter the building.”
Cleveland High educators followed suit. There were 33 staff members absent Friday, Seattle Schools spokesperson Tim Robinson said.
“Part of the issue is having enough substitutes to fill in,” Robinson said. “The district has been actively recruiting for substitute teachers.”
At Cleveland, there was a threat on Tuesday, Thursday, and on Oct. 26, Robinson said. All were unsubstantiated.
The threats have caused anxiety, fear, and stress among students, staff, and families, a statement from a group of 45 Cleveland educators said. There has also been an uptick in coronavirus cases at school that has contributed to people’s feeling unsafe.
“Our collective health is negatively impacted when we are asked to show up to buildings threatened by both violence and serious illness,” the statement said. “Beyond verbal acknowledgment of the weight of these traumatic experiences, there has been little structural support for student and staff mental health. Our school community needs time to process these events of this week.”
This week, Cleveland High has had the largest number of coronavirus cases in a week since school began, Cleveland’s principal said in an email to families.
Cleveland educators are demanding the district create and share a “proactive” plan to keep schools safe and for better transparency around threats and investigations. The group is also asking for changes to be made to the school day when lockdowns or a shelter-in-place occurs, “rather than returning to a regular schedule as if nothing ever happened.”
Seattle school leaders and the Seattle Police Department are partnering to address recent threats to schools, Seattle Schools Superintendent Brent Jones said in a statement.
“We are aware of a national social media trend on TikTok that advocates threats of school violence on Dec. 17,” the statement said. “While there is no evidence of a specific threat toward any of our schools, the Seattle Public Schools Safety & Security Department is prepared to closely track any threats or incidents that may arise.”
The district is asking for families to be aware and report anything suspicious by calling 911 and the Safe Schools Hotline at 206-252-0510.
A pair of Lynwood schools also dealt with threats of violence this week.
Parent and student tips led the Lynnwood Police Department to arrest two boys in separateincidents. Both were booked into Denney Juvenile Justice Center in Everett.
On Thursday morning, police arrested a 15-year-old Meadowdale High School student for reportedly bringing a handgun and ammunition to school.
Police say the student admitted to showing the gun to several other students, one of whom told their parents, who notified police. Joanna Small, a spokesperson for Lynnwood Police, said the student did not point the pistol at any of the students and it was unclear if he intended to use it.
The gun and ammunition were recovered from the teen’s room. Police say the gun belonged to a relative and the teen stole it several months ago from the relative’s safe, which was in the same home. The relative didn’t know the gun had been taken, according to police.
The other incident involved a 14-year-old Meadowdale Middle School student who allegedly sent threatening text messages containing images of weapons to another student at the school.
The parents of the student receiving the texts notified police. Police say the boy was taken into custody without incident before school started on Wednesday.
Edmonds Superintendent Gustavo Balderas did not cite these incidents but did share school safety messages on the district’s website on Thursday and Friday regarding national reports of threats of school violence viaTikTok.
“This situation serves as a good example of why it is important to avoid sharing posts online that refer to school safety threats,” Balderas wrote. “Even if they are not credible threats, they can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety for our students, families, and staff. We ask our families to monitor their children’s social media activity and speak with them about proper behavior online.”
Small said that regardless of whether threats are credible, these incidents are “scary and serious.”
“The kids who were witnesses, and consequently their parents, were super proactive. They did the right thing,” Small said.
Seattle Times staff reporter Christine Clarridge contributed to this story.