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Bathroom graffiti draws alarm in Kotzebue

January 18th, 2013 | Carey Restino Print this article   Email this article  

A bit of bathroom wall writing at Kotzebue's high school drew concern and action last week from the district as students and teachers practiced their emergency response in real time.

Northwest Arctic Borough School District Superintendent Norm Eck said Monday that the district responded to what is now thought to have been an idle threat written on the wall of the women's bathroom appropriately, practicing its "shelter-in-place" tactics while continuing with classes last Wednesday. The bathroom wall writing reportedly stated that a shooting was going to occur on that day.

Eck said the district had two different ways it could have approached the situation — wash the writing off and assume someone was playing a prank or respond as if it might be real. Given the recent Lower 48 school shooting, the district decided to respond as if it might be real.

The writing was discovered toward the end of the day, so students were asked to shelter in place, but continue with classes. Kotzebue police as well as administrators looked through lockers for any sing of guns and when classes switched for the next period, everyone in the hallway was monitored closely. The elementary school was put in a similar status, Eck said. It wasn't a lockdown, but rather an added degree of caution, he said. Activities were canceled that evening at the school, and parents were informed of the incident via radio and phone. Classes went on as normal on Thursday, but the schools continued to be on "yellow alert."

The incident gave Eck and others a chance to practice what they had been learning a lot about in recent weeks regarding emergency response to any type of danger in the school. Given the fact that shootings have occurred in Arctic schools before, as well as in communities within the district, being prepared in the event of such an incident is a very real necessity, Eck said. The Kotzebue staff had recently undergone training on the subject, and village schools were going to be training in it later this week.

"We have this heightened sense of a need for security," Eck said. "Given the tone of things we wanted to make sure everything is safe."

Eck said the students and staff, as well as the community, responded well to the situation. While some parents expressed concern about the situation, others were thankful their children were safe and the district took the measures it did.

"Something that really stood out was that the students were very cooperative and the teachers were tremendous," Eck said. "Certainly, it was a distraction, but I was very pleased that everyone was behaving so well."

Carey Restino can be reached at


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