Nearly a week after the Connecticut school shootings, school officials in the Triangle are trying to dispel rumors of impending violence Friday that have been sweeping across the nation on social media.
A national school security expert said school districts are making the right call by addressing the rumors and trying to allay concerns that parents and students may have during this emotional climate.
On Thursday, the superintendents of the Wake County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro school systems sent messages to parents telling them that while the rumors of school violence are unsubstantiated, extra security will be present Friday. Security will also be boosted at several Durham schools where principals sent phone messages to parents about the rumors Thursday.
“We have been in communication with law enforcement during the past 48 hours upon our awareness of these concerns,” interim Wake Superintendent Stephen Gainey said in a recorded telephone message sent to the parents of the district’s nearly 150,000 students. “Investigators have determined there is no direct or substantiated threat to students and schools.”
Extra school district security staff and police will be at Apex Middle School, Athens Drive High School in Raleigh and Wake Forest-Rolesville High School in Wake Forest, said Mike Charbonneau, a Wake schools spokesman. He said extra security will also be provided Friday to any other school that has concerns about the rumored violence.
In an email to parents, Chapel Hill-Carrboro Superintendent Thomas Forcella said there will be an increased law enforcement presence at all schools on Friday. He said they’ll implement other measures such as reserving the right to check bags and backpacks, securing and monitoring all doors throughout the day and increased monitoring of hallways and common areas.
Schools around the country have been on a heightened state of alert since last Friday, when a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Historically, school shootings have generated rumors that more incidents will follow. Such stories circulated after the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, causing some families to keep their children home despite assurances from authorities.
Most of these rumors after high-profile school shootings are spread by young people who carelessly say things that can sound threatening, according to Ken Trump, president of Cleveland based National School Safety and Security Services.Those fears are now being joined with doomsday scenarios that purportedly connect Friday with the final day on the Mayan calendar. Scholars have discounted speculation that the Mayan calendar predicts that Friday will be the end of the world.
News reports around the country show that police and school officials are trying to respond to the rumors of violence, which officials have said are not backed up by credible evidence. Trump said districts need to deal with the rumors and not leave them unanswered.
“If school administrators don’t move accurately and swiftly, they’re not only going to have the actual incident to handle, but the rumor mill as well,” he said.
Most schools are staying open nationally. But schools in two Michigan counties cancelled classes Thursday and Friday.
School and police officials say social media is the reason that the rumors about school violence have spread so rapidly.
“Unfortunately, this incident demonstrates one of the downsides of instant communication and social media,” Forcella said in his email to parents. “I urge parents to initiate conversations with their children regarding the dangers of spreading rumors and the appropriate use of social media.”
The rumors in Durham schools have been the most prevalent where there is a lot of activity by students on social media, according to William Sudderth, a Durham schools’ spokesman. Sudderth said parents and students who have concerns shouldn’t hesitate to contact the school district.
School officials are stressing that school will be safe on Friday. With Friday being the last day before winter break, the rumors could give families another reason to keep their children home.
“We understand this is a heightened time of concern about school safety,” Gainey says in the phone message.
Trump said that parents shouldn’t hesitate to send their children to school Friday.
“There’s no better time to be in school, because of the heightened awareness and greater security measures in place since last week,” he said.