Unsubstantiated rumors about school violence being spread mostly through social media outlets prompted some Bartholomew County parents to keep their children home and away from classes Thursday.
Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Superintendent John Quick said he wants the community to clearly understand the difference between a threat and a rumor.
“We have not received any local threats,” Quick said. “We’ve only heard rumors of threats. And both in-house and police investigations have shown there’s no credibility to the rumors.”
Quick added he did not feel it would serve the community if he elaborated on the details of local gossip.
False rumors spread through Bartholomew County Thursday, suggesting that emergency-safety measures had been taken at one or more local schools. However, no lockdowns or evacuations were instituted.
“We’ve had some families call out of concern and kept a child at home,” said Larry Perkinson, student assistance coordinator for the school district.
Attendance at Columbus East High School was at 93 percent Thursday, while Columbus North High School reported 96 percent of their students to be in class. Quick said the average absentee rate across the district is 5 percent.
“We’ve been battling the rumors, and attendance was down slightly,” Quick said. “But kids feel they are most safe when they are at school.”
Police also confirmed there were no specific threats made at any local school.
“If we felt there was any threat to the safety of children, we would alert the community,” Columbus Police Department spokesman Lt. Matt Myers said. “But we have not found any specific, credible information that would indicate an attack at any local school.”
Columbus Police Chief Jason Maddix asked community members and students to report actual or perceived threats they hear to police or school officials. He encouraged parents to keep an eye on their children’s online activities, including use of social media sites such as Facebook, and to talk to their children about what could happen if they make a statement regarding an attack at school.
Similar rumors and concerns have spread across the country at the one-week point since last Friday’s fatal schoolhouse shootings in Newtown, Conn., where 26 people — including 20 elementary school students — died. Perkinson said he believes fears and comments are being fueled by social media comments concerning the shooting and predictions that the world would end today, based on the Mayan calendar.
Myers said Columbus Police conducts a full investigation whenever a perceived threat is reported to the department.
“We take any threat seriously, especially when it involves the schools and guns,” Myers said, who said investigations made this week have not been substantiated by detectives and were not specific in nature.
Perkinson added the vast majority of threats received nationwide are made by students who either crave attention or believe they are being funny.
“Words can have a profound effect,” Myers said. “People need to be aware of what they say regarding guns, shootings and schools right now.”
Myers said his department has a strong relationship with BCSC, working together to prepare for any emergencies at the schools. Myers said school officials and police communicate daily about a variety of topics, including school safety and potential threats.
BCSC has a comprehensive emergency plan that addresses active shooters and lockdown procedures, and the schools conduct drills to train students how to respond and react in emergency situations.
“Public safety is the top priority for Mayor Kristen Brown, and CPD is highly trained and well equipped to respond to any threat or emergency at the schools,” Myers said.
Officers participate in ongoing training, including an active-shooter simulation that was conducted at Columbus East High School earlier this year. The police department patrols around the schools every day and has increased its patrols around county schools since last week’s attack in Connecticut.