FORTVILLE — A threatening comment and subsequent social media post prompted heightened security at Mt. Vernon High School Thursday morning, with teens turning over their bags to be searched before heading to class and police patrolling the area.
But the alleged threat — details of which were not released — did not warrant notification of every family in the district, school officials said.
Email and phone alerts were sent to parents of high school students and those in the eighth-grade academy, which shares the same building; but families with students at the district’s four other school buildings were not notified of the threat, prompting some complaints.
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Working closely with police, school officials determined the threat was isolated to Mt. Vernon High School and banned the student in question from attending class Thursday; there was no need to cause a district-wide panic that might disrupt a day of learning at the elementary and middle schools, Superintendent Shane Robbins said.
A Mt. Vernon High School student Wednesday afternoon made what administrators called a concerning comment in the hallway that led several of his peers to report him, police said. Some students went home and told their families about the classmate’s remark, which prompted parents to call 911 and the Fortville and McCordsville police departments to make further inquiries.
During the investigation, officials found a post on the student’s social media accounts they deemed concerning as well, which ultimately led to tightening security at the school Thursday morning.
Investigators declined to release specific information about what the student said at school or online; but Fortville Police Maj. Pat Bratton said some of the comments seemed to reference the 1999 Columbine High School mass shooting.
Thursday marked the 18th anniversary of the school shooting that killed 13 people and injured dozens more in Littleton, Colorado; and local police considered the date when deciding what precautions to put in place at Mt. Vernon on Thursday morning, Bratton said.
The student accused of making the threats was kept from school Thursday as administrators mulled whether any disciplinary actions will be taken. Police say the teen likely won’t face criminal charges because no specific threat was made.
But Mt. Vernon parents say the district’s leaders should have done more to keep families informed.
Ashleyn Ort of Fortville, who has a seventh-grader and a fourth-grader enrolled in Mt. Vernon schools, said she was disappointed administrators didn’t alert all parents to the situation at the high school.
Ort’s daughter rides a bus with high school students every day to and from the nearby middle school; she overheard students talking about the threats and was scared by them, Ort said. All night, Ort waited for word from the school for reassurance, but none came.
“It’s very upsetting that they felt it wasn’t necessary to inform all parents,” Ort wrote in an email to the Daily Reporter. “I know for sure it would’ve eased my anxiety and fear of sending my children to school today.”
Robbins said the district leaders did what they thought was best. Once they identified the student and determined the threat was isolated to the high school, there was no reason to believe any other building was in danger, he said.
“There was no need to put fear into other parents,” he said.
Entrance into the high school was limited to two sets of doors Thursday. At least nine Fortville Police officers patrolled halls and parking lots as teachers searched students’ bags, reassuring each that the increased security measures were only for their safety.
It was nothing new for Mt. Vernon high schoolers: they’ve faced heightened security four times since Spring 2015 after bomb or shooting threats were fielded by police.
As a line formed outside the school’s front door Thursday, students like sophomore Emi Ouchi vented their frustration.
Emi said she first heard classmates talking about a shooting threat during her bus ride home Wednesday, but she brushed it off. These lock-down procedures are starting to feel commonplace, she said, recalling the four times since eighth grade that her school day has been disrupted by a vague threat to students. It’s hard to take it all seriously, especially because she’s never felt unsafe at school, she said.
Robbins said district has to rely on its students to voice concerns about security, and he’s proud of the teens who came forward Wednesday to warn of possible danger.
Hopefully grumblings from classmates, just like the sight of officers in the hallways, will deter such incidents in the future, he said.
“Sometimes peer pressure to not do these sorts of things is our best ally,” Robbins said.
Mt. Vernon uses data software Skyward to track student data and contact information. The system also sends out alerts on important school matters. Parents can update their information any time by visiting mvcsc.k12.in.us/ and clicking the Skyward tab in the top right corner.