Threat draws police to PVPA

  • A banner outside the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School for the walkout held on Thursday in honor of the 17 students killed in the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. SARAH ROBERTSON—GAZETTE STAFF

Staff Writer
Published: 3/15/2018 9:39:08 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — A heavy police presence greeted charter school students Thursday morning after a threatening message written on a bathroom wall was discovered this week.

Advised and overseen by state and local police, students walked through metal detectors before entering the building, and school personnel searched backpacks, the school said in an email sent Thursday morning.

“We recognize police presence can be unsettling for many folks for a variety of reasons. We want to recognize that, respect that, while providing the most safe environment that we can,” said Brent Nielson, interim head of the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School.

In an email sent to PVPA parents Wednesday evening, Nielson explained that a message written on a bathroom wall made reference to the shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people last month.

The message was found Monday, but there was no school Tuesday because of the snow, and Wednesday was a professional development day. Thursday was the day students had planned to walk out to commemorate the Florida shooting.

“There were no direct threats made in the message, however, we immediately contacted the South Hadley Police Department to make them aware and to seek their advice,” Nielson wrote Wednesday. “Based on a variety of factors reviewed by members of the administrative team, we feel strongly that the message was written sometime Monday morning.

“If we had been advised to cancel school, we certainly would have but this situation does not rise to that level of concern.”

Police remained in the parking lot all day in marked and unmarked vehicles, according to Marcy Conner, the school’s chief financial officer.

PVPA students went ahead with the walkout on Thursday in honor of those killed during a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month.

Conner said the administration expects everything will return to normal on Friday.

Nielson said the school is conducting an internal investigation on the incident in collaboration with the South Hadley Police.

“I apologize for how unsettling this may have been for some,” Nielson wrote in the Wednesday email. “We felt that this was a necessary step to rule out any chance of your children being unsafe.”

Sarah Robertson can be reached at

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