After Florida shooting, schools plead: Don’t spread rumors of threats on social media

The Wake County school system has finished installing entry buzzers and security cameras at the front entrances of all 187 schools.
The Wake County school system has finished installing entry buzzers and security cameras at the front entrances of all 187 schools.

Schools throughout the Triangle have seen such a spike in reports of school threats since the Florida school shooting that administrators are urging parents and students to share concerns directly with authorities instead of spreading rumors on social media.

Wake County school security officials and police have investigated multiple school threats since the Feb. 14 Florida school massacre that left 17 people dead, according to Lisa Luten, a district spokeswoman. None of the threats and rumors have been credible, Luten said, and some schools have emailed and called families to reassure them.

“Every threat is taken seriously, but what we ask parents to do is to monitor the activity of their children,” Luten said. “They should remind their children not to share or spread rumors on social media. If they see a concern, they should talk with an adult.”

School shootings commonly lead to copycat threats, said Amanda Klinger, director of operations for the Educator’s School Safety Network, an Ohio-based group that tracks school threats.

The number of school threats has jumped from an average of 10 a school day nationally to more than 50 a day since the Florida shooting, Klinger said, adding that the actual number of threats is likely much higher.

Luten said the Wake school district investigates every threat, and information is shared with families when the threats have caused a disruption to their child’s school. Individual Wake schools have sent at least 17 letters to families since the Florida shooting.

“Every time the media reports on threats or instances like this, we always see an increase in hoax threats,” Luten said. “We’re seeing it on a larger level because the media is reporting it on a larger level.”

Luten said investigating false threats uses valuable time and resources that could be spent on other issues.

That concern was echoed by the Clayton Police Department, which stationed extra officers at the Johnston County town’s schools on Friday morning in response to threats made at Clayton High School.

The threats were traced to Clayton High students who have “received consequences for their actions that have led to the disruption of our educational processes,” principal Bennett Jones said in a message sent to parents.

“These hoaxes cause public panic, force law enforcement to dedicate major resources and time to investigate, and carry SERIOUS consequences for students like suspension, fines or even jail time!” Clayton Police said on a Facebook post Thursday. “Parents, talk to your kids! Many teens believe they can enjoy anonymity on social media, but investigators can find the sources of posts and in these cases they did.”

Previously, Luten said, students spread rumors of threats verbally. Now she says they’re sharing screenshots of fake threats that didn’t even originate in Wake.

Some students at Sanderson High School in Raleigh shared images online of Facebook posts by a person claiming he’d bring a gun to school to shoot people at “SHS.” The vague “SHS threat” led to a nationwide scare as multiple school districts and law enforcement agencies investigated. An Ohio teenager has been charged with making the threat.

Greg Decker, principal of Sanderson High, sent a letter to families explaining that the SHS threat had been investigated and was not directed at the school.

The Wake school system has posted several tweets asking parents and students not to spread rumors and false information online.

“Please encourage your student to not share rumors with other students,” Wake tweeted to a parent. “If they have information to share, ask them to speak directly to a teacher or administrator.”

In addition to contacting a school employee or school resource officer, people can also report safety concerns to the Wake school system’s anonymous tip line at 919-856-1911.

Schools and police say responsibly reporting potential threats to school staff and law enforcement is critical. In the Clayton High incident, authorities said the quick reporting of the threats allowed investigators to rapidly determine who made them and let families know the threats had no merit.

“I would like to thank the scores of parents and students that came forward with information that led to a relatively quick resolution of a very complex problem of sharing information via social media,” said Jones, the Clayton High principal. “I am proud of how our students responded in a responsible manner. Working together is the best way to ensure that our campus is a safe environment for everyone in Comet Country.”

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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