Two days of questioning and investigating tips at Marysville High School has resulted in an increased police presence and other security measures.
The school shooting Dec. 14 in Connecticut put Marysville Exempted Village School District and law enforcement on alert, so when tips of a threat to teacher and student safety came in last week, high school Principal Matt Chrispin took action.
"We consider all tips legitimate," he said. "They only become rumors after we've investigated and found there is no evidence supporting the claim."
District administration and Marysville police went into gear Monday, Dec. 17, when a parent reported his/her child had heard of a threat to safety at the high school.
"Nearly two dozen students were interviewed through the course of the day as we sought to find the origin of the alleged threat. From the interviews, we have been unable to substantiate any threat to students or staff," said Chrispin.
An email was sent out to parents to make them aware of the situation Monday night.
But the investigation continued Tuesday, Dec. 18, as rumors continued and, this time, a mention of a hit list was included.
Twenty more students were interviewed, but none reported directly hearing a threat and no other evidence of an actual threat was discovered, district leaders said.
Reports about posts on Twitter and Facebook were unfounded; no one was able to reproduce or identify who authored the posts and the district found no evidence of an actual list, officials said.
Additional security measures were put in place for the remainder of the week, including building sweeps, more police at the school and other precautionary measures by high school staff.
"For me, it is always about getting the investigation going quickly," said Chrispin. "Time is always of the essence and I assembled the administrators and school resource officer immediately to begin the investigation."
He also commended staff and students for their patience, cooperation and persistence in handling the distraction.
December 2012 is the first time the high school ended a semester and held semester exams before winter break.
"They have done a tremendous job preparing for exams given the heightened anxiety caused by these alleged threats in the wake of the Connecticut tragedy," said Chrispin.
The email sent to parents asked them to go over the following safety tips with their child:
* Report any conversations about acts of violence or weapons to a staff member.
* Report any suspicious behavior to a staff member.
* Do not open doors for strangers.
* Do not prop doors open.
Earlier this year, Chrispin spoke about school safety in response to a school shooting in Chardon, Ohio.
Both Chrispin and Tim Kannally, Creekview Intermediate School principal, said identifying students in trouble can help head off some crisis situations.
Chrispin pointed out last spring that district personnel rely on teachers to bring attention to dark writings or unusual behavior in students. They want the students to take responsibility as well.
"Kids are the ones who know," he said. "It's cultivating a climate that opens up those avenues of communication between the ones that know kids and the ones who can help them: adults."
Chrispin said he thinks that may be the one of the positive outcomes from this week's investigation.
"If any good came from this, I would hope it was the open communication we had with parents, students and staff about the safety and security of the building," said Chrispin.
"It is easy to get caught up in all the reform movements in education right now and overlook or take for granted that our initial responsibility is the safety and security of everyone in our building."
He also said he hopes last week's events emphasized that responsibility needs to be shared by staff, students and parents.
"We have to work together to make sure MHS is a place we want to send our children, to work and teach and to visit," said Chrispin.
Each school building is required by law to have a crisis plan in place. Marysville buildings have flip charts for teachers that address situations such as lockdown procedures, weapons, hostage situations, unauthorized visits, abduction, medical emergencies, tornado warnings and fire alarms.
Those plans are on file with the Marysville Police Department, the Union County Sheriff's Office and the state auditor's office.
The plan must be updated every three years.
If a crisis were to hit any of the buildings, the first step is a lockdown. Teachers turn their lights off, close and lock their classroom door and get students away from windows.
Superintendent Diane Mankins released a statement to district parents the day of the Connecticut shooting stressing the continued effort to ensure safety.
"As a district, we are constantly reviewing our safety and security procedures, practicing drills and working closely with our police department to revisit our procedures on an ongoing basis. In fact, the administrative team spent several days with our local sheriff, fire and police department reviewing our safety protocol plans collaboratively right before the start of the school year," said Mankins.
Chrispin said this week's investigation, while necessary, was a distraction.
"We are an educational institution and this incident inhibited the good and important work we do at MHS," he said.
Mankins said the district will continue to work with residents to protect students.
"Our sense of community in times of tragedy is one of our greatest strengths. We thank you for our partnership. Together, we will continue to provide a safe environment for our children."