Superintendent Anthony Lewis leans in to talk to students before school Wednesday. USD 497 administrators flooded the rotunda during late arrival to provide an increased adult presence as the district works to respond to two recent incidents of students bringing guns to school as well as the investigation of a threat reported on Wednesday.

District responds to gun incidents at Lawrence High, new threat investigated

More police, district administrators seen at LHS following incidents

Lawrence USD 497 implemented new security and support measures starting Wednesday morning in response to two gun confiscations during the past week while also investigating a new threat.

A Lawrence High School student reported a SnapChat post from a Free State High School student in which they said the Free State student threatened to shoot the reporting student at LHS today, according to a statement from Julie Boyle, director of communications for USD 497.

“Both students’ families are being contacted as part of the ongoing investigation,” Boyle said in the email. “A plan for an increased presence of law enforcement on the LHS campus this week was already in place today. Our schools take all threats seriously, reporting them to law enforcement for thorough investigation.”

The onslaught of news has been concerning to many throughout the district.

“Well as a parent, I’m concerned for the safety of my children, their friends; frankly all students and individuals there,” school board member Melissa Johnson, who is also an LHS parent, said Tuesday night.

In response to previous threats, the district sent out an email on Tuesday night detailing steps they will take over the next week and beyond. A couple visible changes put in place this morning included the presence of district administrators and increased police presence.

“We have our district staff here today and they will show up periodically, and we have secured two additional off duty police officers that will be here the rest of the week,” USD 497 Superintendent Dr. Anthony Lewis said as he stood in the rotunda. “The administration will be briefed on Friday to determine our next steps in terms of continuing that.”

While the district enacts tangible security measures like increased police and review of crisis plans, it also wants to make sure students feel supported.

“So we have a mental health team here, we have an already established crisis support team that goes out whenever there’s death of a student or staff member or any other crisis, groups of counselors that are readily available to be dispatched and deployed to individual buildings, so we have them here every year for student support as well as staff support,” Lewis said. “As superintendent, it’s my duty, it’s my job to ensure that everyone feels safe.”

A key to that feeling of safety, Johnson believes, lies in the relationship between students and adults in the building.

“One way to be proactive is to continue to promote healthy relationships amongst students and the adults they encounter day to day,” said Johnson, who is also an elementary school teacher. “Having that trusted adult can be a key; a teacher, custodian, counselor, food service worker, etc.”

To foster these kinds of relationships, students will evaluate their relationships with adults in the building during an activity planned for third hour Thursday.

“All of our students will engage in an activity on Thursday where they will kind of identify who is that adult in the building that you feel comfortable with, if there’s not an adult then we will work to pair that student with an adult,” Lewis said. “There may be times where a teacher will say, ‘Well, I taught this student every day, why does he feel like he doesn’t have a relationship with me?’ But that is that student’s perception, they may not have that relationship.”

Combating these threats will also be a community effort. USD 497 is partnering with the Be SMART campaign to advocate for gun safety in the home to make it harder for students to bring guns to school in the first place. Be SMART will have information during the Feb. 19 basketball game.

“They [Be SMART] work with adults, in terms of getting information out and just reminding adults to lock their weapons and have conversations with their students about guns to make sure that you’re practicing gun safety at home as well, because these last two incidents, those weapons did come from home,” Lewis said. “Our Be SMART partners will be here at the Lawrence High game on Tuesday night and they’ll set up a table, share information with parents and then they will do a presentation here Thursday.”

The district will hold a Community Conversation about Public Safety from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Feb. 21 in the LHS cafeteria so that community members can make their voices heard.

“We will kind of brainstorm as a group,” Lewis said. “When I first got here, I said I don’t have all the answers, but I have said the answers are in this room, and what I mean by this proverbial room is community, and so by bringing the community in we can sit down together and ensure that we are creating safe schools throughout this district.”

LHS teachers were encouraged Wednesday to make sure students continue to report concerns and rumors. School board member GR Gordon-Ross said its essential that students remain vigilant.

“What the students did last week and today, that led to these two incidents being resolved,” said Gordon-Ross, who also is a parent of LHS students. “If you see something, say something. That’s how we protect our community. We watch out for, look out for each other.”

These are some of the ways students can report concerns:

  • Share concerns with school staff members.
  • Call the Douglas County Crime Stoppers hotline, 785-843-TIPS (8477).
  • Call the Kansas School Safety Hotline, 1-877-626-8203.
  • Call 911 in the case of an emergency.

Nadia Sanburn contributed to this report.

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