News

Fake worries plague police, schools

‘Social media’ goes crazy; schools close one day early
By MIKE BROWN
Reporter Editor


Police car and a line outside the intermediate school Thursday? Crisis, panic, apocalypse? No, it was just security checking in parents and the public to see the fourth grade’s annual Christmas play, not the result of any non-existent security problem. The police car? A policeman’s child was in the play. 
Reporter/Mike Brown Police car and a line outside the intermediate school Thursday? Crisis, panic, apocalypse? No, it was just security checking in parents and the public to see the fourth grade’s annual Christmas play, not the result of any non-existent security problem. The police car? A policeman’s child was in the play. Reporter/Mike Brown Welcome to the Post-Newtown world. And it’s been a trying one for Rockdale Police and the Rockdale ISD so far.

A plague of unfounded “social media” rumors relaying non-existent threats of shootings, bombings, even police actions and arrests, have descended on the schools and police in the wake of the horrific shootings in Connecticut last week.

None of it was true but police and RISD security personnel checked out texts, posts and innuendos just the same, making for a hectic pre-holiday week.

Finally the Rockdale ISD canceled Friday classes, turning out schools for the break one day early. Classes resume Jan. 7.

Milano schools were brief ly locked down Thursday morning before a shooting threat was determined to be a “false alarm.”

‘RAMPANT’—Lt. J. D. Newlin said rumors have “run rampant” on social media since the Dec. 14 shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. The rumor phenomenon was not restricted to Rockdale.

“Just about everything was out there on texts, Facebook posts, you-name-it, all of it untrue,” Newlin said.

Most common rumor was that “something was going to happen” at the Rockdale schools and, in some cases, had already happened.

“We were even informed that something had happened at the junior-high and that we (the police) had a suspect in custody,” Newlin said. “Absolutely not a word of truth to it.”

Police, and school security personnel, searched down and talked to all those they could identify spreading the rumors.

“In some cases it was children repeating what they had heard adults saying,” Newlin said.

Some parents and guardians pulled children out of school or refused to send them.

The Reporter received communications referencing Rockdale schools being in lockdown, a status which was not invoked.

‘DISRUPTION’—At 9:43 a.m. Thursday, the Rockdale ISD posted a communication from Pam Kaufmann, assistant superintendent for curriculum and administration noting that “many improper and inaccurate comments” had been made on social media and that the rumors were causing a “significant disruption” on all RISD campuses.

Those posts asked parents and guardians for assistance in helping the district to stop the rumors.

“The school district was great,” Newlin said. “They were right on top of it and cooperated with us fully.”

But the social media blitz continued and by 3 p.m. administrators decided to cancel Friday classes and notified parents and guardians of that decision.

That post also cited illness, noting that “attendance has been dramatically affected over the last few days with student and staff illnesses including flu, stomach virus, and flu-like symptoms.”

‘SAFE’—“It was one of those things that snowballed,” Newlin said. “ You’d find one person spreading a rumor and they’d never have any first-hand knowledge of who actually made the threat. But then they’d text it to five friends and those five would do the same and so on.”

Kaufmann said the district had established that “all (Rockdale ISD) campuses are safe.” Police agreed with that assessment.

“If we become aware of any issue that would put Rockdale ISD students in danger, you will be informed immediately through School Messenger, the RISD website and local media,” she said.

MILANO—Shortly after 7:30 a.m. Thursday, sheriff’s deputies informed Principals Ruth Davenport and Brad Jones of a possible shooting threat in Milano,” Milano ISD superintendent Robert Westbrook said.

By 7:45 a.m. it was believed the “threat” was toward the school, Westbrook said.

“It was then that we implemented procedures that we have in place for the safety of our students, teachers and staff,” he said.

By 8:25 a.m. sheriff’s deputies, who were on hand at both MISD campuses during the entire morning, had assured Westbrook the incident was a false alarm.

“The threat was vague and the source was unknown,” Chief Deputy Chris White said. “Lt. Chad Marek, was able to investigate the information that had been received in reference to the threat and positively determine that the threat was false.”

“At that time we decided to have a soft lock down which allowed us to limit the traffic flow in and out of the building,” Westbrook said.

“Parents could come get their children and we would escort students to the doors or if parents came in we would escort them to the classrooms. We still had Christmas parties at the elementary campus that day,” he said.

Final exams were occurring at that time as well at the junior high/ high school campus.

MISD was still on soft lockdown on Friday, a day Rockdale held no classes.

“There were still lots of rumors going around Friday,” Westbrook said. “With the circus atmosphere of the whole Mayan calendar thing we thought it was in the best interest of our kids to keep operating in that sort of soft lock down and monitor who came in and out of the buildings.”

Westbrook said he and campus administrators “self-evaluated” their procedures Thursday after school and again on Friday morning.

“Overall things went extremely well,” he said. “Our goal is to keep the buildings safe and secure in the best interests of our students.”

He anticipates that when students return from Christmas break on Jan. 8 that the district will “be opening as a normal day.”


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