What District Superintendent Dr. Howard Smith categorized as “a classic game of telephone,” still had some parents – and students – feeling jittery about school safety.
Apparently, a high school student posted something on Facebook directed at either one or multiple students and staff – reports differ what the content of the post actually was and who was targeted.
One parent who saw the post, which they say was done under a fake name created for Facebook, called it: “very creepy.”
Smith, on the other hand, said he didn't want to dignify exaggeration with any more attention than it demanded, and that the school acted as it should.
“There was no threats made to kids or staff,” Smith said. “We are trying to provide information without dignifying it.”
Smith said the student, who was a transfer student, was given an alternate placement elsewhere, “and won’t be coming back.” Administrators approached him when they heard of the Facebook page and the post was immediately taken down.
However, what might have been vaguely worded in the Facebook post left room for escalating rumor and rising fears. Even two mothers of kids in Pre-K and 3rd grade, far removed from high school age, expressed to Patch worry for their children’s safety. The mothers both said John Paulding is “right there” next to the high school and that their third graders are vulnerable, with classrooms facing the street.
Both women admitted some extra-anxiety after the Newtown shootings, but felt justified calling for more communication, more reassurance, more systems in place. “How do you [this student's] not going to take revenge?” asked one mother who wished to remain anonymous. “We need something to feel okay, at peace.”
Some parents are discussing a possible visit to the School Board meeting tonight to voice their concerns. Some blame the gap in safety on the lack of a youth officer, after one retired and wasn’t replaced. Some feel these cases should be taken right to the police.
Superintendent Smith says they won’t go to police every time someone says something disturbing, which of course happens more often than parents might like. Since NYS put into law cyberbullying legislation last summer, the schools have particular protocol to follow.
If there was any illegal activity potentially or real, then yes, police would be involved, said Smith. Smith said this was not a case of cyberbullying. “Unless there’s a threat of harm, I wouldn’t necessarily involve police. This was a rambling inappropriate post on Facebook.”
Facebook is largely unchartered territory for school officials and police forces alike. “Police departments are having to try to figure out how to deal with a new world as well," Smith said.
The internet is tough to control and police. (There's been recent reports of one school district monitoring student Facebook activity by having police officers “friend” students.) But then of course kids can create false identities as this TUFSD high schooler did. And there’s always text messages. The quickness and ease of communication technologies makes bullying that much harder to measure, and stop.
“Impressionable parents want to protect their kids from any nasty word being said about them, but it’s not possible,” Smith said. He added that parents want to believe that there must be some law broken, but often there just isn't.
One mother who plans to speak up — if not at this board meeting, than with a new superintendent soon — said, “I saw some of what the student posted, very creepy, definitely not a stable person. I hope the kid does get help… And that our schools are as secure as possible.”