Southern Hancock looks to reassure parents after threat circulates

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NEW PALESTINE — Southern Hancock Schools officials are citing student privacy as their reason for not releasing more information about what they called a non-credible threat to New Palestine High School that circulated online earlier this week.

School officials believe a student or students “maliciously” created fake threats online “to intentionally harm the reputation of the student they were pretending to be,” according to a post on the district’s Facebook page. Those social media posts were quickly determined to be non-credible threats, meaning there was no way the dangerous acts could have been carried out.

But as a precaution and to ease parents’ and students’ concerns, school officials increased police presence at the high school Tuesday morning.

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Wednesday, high school Principal Keith Fessler and district communications director Wes Anderson spoke directly to parents via a Facebook video hoping to clear up any confusion about the actions taken the day before.

They assured parents that students and staff at the high school were never in danger, and they thanked those who spotted the posts for being vigilant and reporting them.

They told viewers, however, that no specific details regarding the threat or any students involved would be released. Even in situations like this, student privacy is protected, they said.

“That’s federal law, and we’re going to adhere to that,” Anderson said. “And I hope there is a part of you that understands you wouldn’t want that for your kid either. We’re not going to talk about a child, in the same way you wouldn’t want you child talked about publicly.”

Still, they wanted to assure parents that the district treats student safety with the utmost importance. They’re imploring parents to trust the safety and security protocols the district and law enforcement have put in place to protect students.

All threats brought to school officials’ attention are investigated quickly and in consultation with law enforcement, Fessler said. Certain information about the nature of the threat or the actions taken by police can’t be discussed publicly in order to protect the investigation, he said.

Threats generally fall into three categories, and each initiates a different response from the district’s leaders, Anderson told the Daily Reporter.

First, there are false reports, Anderson said. A student might say she overheard a classmate say something inappropriate or concerning. Upon an investigation by a teacher, principal or police officer, it’s determined the inappropriate comments were never made.

Typically, those instances are never brought to parents’ attention; they’re handled within the school, he said.

Then, there are non-credible threats, like the one uncovered this week. In these instances, a threatening comment might have been made; but the student who made the comment has no means of carrying out the danger they’ve described. Therefore, there is no danger.

The district does alert parents and students on non-credible threats against a school building or large group, hoping that their transparency will dispel rumors and ease worries.

Anderson noted there were an above-average number of absences from the high school on Tuesday, which he believes had something to do with Monday night’s threat. Some students missed school again on Wednesday.

Parents have every right to keep their students home, Anderson said; but they should know that once a statement from the district has gone out informing the community of a non-credible threat, parents can rest assured that the school buildings are safe and that the threat has been addressed.

Lastly, and unfortunately, are credible threats, where there is a threat of violence that could be carried out.

In these instances, the district would take immediate action to eliminate the threat and protect students. The school might be placed on lockdown, or students might be evacuated from the building and reconnected with their parents.

But Southern Hancock schools hasn’t dealt with a credible threat in some time, Anderson said. They hope it remains that way.

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