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Shooting threat closes high school March 14

In-person classes were not held March 14 in Northampton Area High School because of a terroristic threat.

The perceived threat was found in the form of graffiti scrawled in a bathroom stall at NAHS stating “Shooting Up School March 14th.”

Northampton Area School District Superintendent of Schools Joseph S. Kovalchik alerted parents and guardians to the incident in an email the afternoon of March 10.

“Students are not in the building Tuesday for academic or any extracurricular activities,” Kovalchik said after the March 13 NASD Board of Education meeting.

Kovalchik discussed the incident during the public comment portion of the school board meeting, attended by 43 district residents in the high school auditorium.

Students in grades 9 through 12 participated in remote learning March 14. The online system was set up in the district during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. NAHS administrators and teachers had an in-service day March 14 in the high school.

Northampton Area Middle School and other NASD schools were open March 14 for in-person classes.

There were no threats reported at other district schools, Kovalchik said after the March 13 school board meeting.

Kovalchik said the absentee rate at NAHS was 12% March 13. The typical absentee rate is 5% at NAHS, said Kovalchik.

Kovalchik said the incident was the first in many years in NASD.

“It was three years that we closed schools March 13 (2020),” Kovalchik noted, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic state-mandated closings.

As of press time, the incident was under investigation by the NASD police department, assisted by personnel from the Pennsylvania State Police.

At the outset of the incident, the NASD administration contacted law enforcement officials from Northampton County and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to Kovalchik.

Approximately eight police personnel, including four from NASD, and others from Moore and Lehigh townships, were on duty March 13 at NAHS when classes were held. Police officials were stationed at the high school and patrolled hallways. No incidents were reported.

As of press time, the high school was scheduled to reopen March 15. An increased police presence was to have been in effect at NAHS March 15.

The person responsible for the incident will be held accountable, according to the administration.

The March 10 email communication from Kovalchik reported law enforcement personnel and Northampton County authorities were contacted after the discovery of the writing on a bathroom stall wall.

“At this time, we have not identified the person who wrote the statement,” Kovalchik’s email continued. “The investigation will continue this evening and over the weekend, if necessary. I will provide updates to you as we work through this issue.”

He added the district will always investigate potentially unsafe incidents that could put students or staff at risk. He also noted the importance of transparency in sharing updates with the school community.

A copy of the email sent March 10, as well as copies of emails sent March 12 and 13, were provided by the administration after the school board meeting March 13.

The March 12 email from Kovalchik confirmed an additional police presence would be at NAHS March 13 and that all schools would remain open. He noted the investigation continues.

The March 13 communication reported NAHS would be closed March 14 for a remote learning day “out of an abundance of caution” and students should not report to the school. This decision was made after many discussions with local law enforcement and district officials.

Flexible instruction day information was shared to assist with the remote learning.

Additionally, Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical School students were instructed not to report to the school, but dual enrollment students were permitted to report to Northampton Community College.

Kovalchik’s March 13 email said NAHS would reopen for in-person learning March 15 with additional safety measures in place. These safety measures include an additional police presence from local police departments.

“The district, in collaboration with the local officials, will continue to investigate this situation and any safety situations moving forward this school year,” Kovalchik said in the email sent March 13. “If we determine who is responsible for this threat or future threats, the individuals will be held accountable to the fullest extent possible.”

Kovalchik added he will continue to keep families notified of any safety concerns.