Teachers work to restore normalcy after shooting threat

FORTVILLE — As school officials debate whether or not to expel a student accused of threatening to shoot up Mt. Vernon High School, teachers strove Wednesday to restore a sense of normalcy to classrooms.

After more than half of the high school student body stayed home Tuesday because of the threat, teachers were faced Wednesday with making up for lost instruction time while still giving students the chance to voice any lingering fears about student safety.

Fewer than half of the school’s approximately 1,200 high school students attended class Tuesday after school officials gave parents the green light to keep their children at home as police searched for the suspect. By Tuesday afternoon, police said they arrested the student suspected of making the threat.

The student has been suspended pending an expulsion hearing, according to a statement from the Fortville Police Department, which investigated the threat.

Only seven of the 28 students enrolled in Jennifer Leavell’s first period language arts class showed up Tuesday afternoon — a day they all were scheduled to take a test.

With so few students present, Leavell said she decided to delay the test, spending the day instead on another lesson — one she’ll have to reteach to students who were absent. By Wednesday morning, most students had returned to class, and Leavell gave the test on a day she had planned to use for another lesson.

Casey Dodd, another English teacher at the high school, said it’s frustrating to lose so much classroom time with students.

“It’s going to be difficult,” Dodd said. “It’ll push us back a little bit further than I’d like to be at this point.”

But Dodd also said he needed to take the time to talk to students about what transpired.

What a student reportedly intended as a joke — asking a fellow student if he’d like to help shoot up the school Tuesday — resulted in increased security measures, including additional police on campus and searches of students’ belongings before they were granted access to the building.

While Dodd felt the pressure to make up for lost time in his classroom, he felt compelled to open a dialogue with students about what happened Tuesday.

It’s important to talk to students about the far-reaching consequences of making a threatening statement, Dodd said.

“We try to turn it into a teaching tool,” Dodd said, adding that he’s been impressed with how well students have handled the situation.

Principal Bernie Campbell said he told teachers it was important to address what happened with their students; ignoring the previous day’s events would only add to their concern, he said.

“When something like this happens, you always start class by listening,” he said. “Sometimes kids just need someone to listen to them, to hear the fear in their voice.”

Giving reassurance is important, he said, but he also stressed to teachers they shouldn’t extend the discussion unnecessarily. Proceeding with lesson plans is important to helping students get back to normal, he said.

Maria Bond, district communications director, said she hoped students who chose to attend Tuesday were comforted by the increased security measures.

Lockers had been searched, and police stayed in the building even after the suspect’s arrest.

“I think with all the added security, Tuesday was the safest our students could be at school,” she said.

Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or dmorgan@greenfieldreporter.com.