Richfield police responded to an alternative high school Friday after a male student brought a gun to school in his backpack.

Students at South Education Center in Richfield saw the student with the gun and notified school staff, who called police, according to Deputy Chief Mike Flaherty.

The school then went into lockdown starting at 1:30 p.m. The lockdown was lifted at 2:10 p.m. before classes were dismissed on schedule at 2:30 p.m., said school spokeswoman Rachel Hicks.

"The student did not make any threats to hurt anybody," she said in a phone interview Friday. "No one was harmed [and] everything was handled swiftly."

Flaherty said in a news release that officers made contact with the student near the main entrance of the school and took him into custody without incident. Police recovered a loaded handgun on the student, who was taken to the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center. The incident remains under investigation.

Hicks added that South Education Center, which is part of Intermediate District 287 serving 11 cities in the west metro, phased out metal detectors and they are no longer at school entrances. About 1,000 high-needs students attend the cooperative.

District 287 also in recent years removed all school resource officers and replaced them with student safety coaches to focus on building relationships and working on mental health issues. Hicks said the district is "less focused on having police officers present. ... A lot of arrests and citations aren't good for kids struggling with mental health that have complex neurological situations."

Officers are still occasionally called to schools within the district, though last year it reported a decrease in arrests. The district welcomed students back to school Wednesday..

In a statement to staff, Superintendent Sandra Lewandowski said, "We want to reassure families that we are taking additional safety precautions and that, as always, ensuring the safety of our schools, students, and staff is our highest priority.

"The unmet mental health needs of students and school safety incidents are inextricably connected," she continued. "As a school district that serves some of the highest-needs students in the state, we have pled with the legislators, the Governor, the Minnesota Department of Health, and others for more help. We are getting a clearer picture of the consequences of this past year on students' mental health and the increasing responsibility of schools to be the front line of the children's mental health system."

Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751