Rumors of threats against Warren County School District buildings are running wild.
Parents and students are concerned.
Teachers and administrators are trying to maintain an educational atmosphere in a safe environment.
Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry
A Pennsylvania State Police vehicle is parked in front of Warren Area High School on Thursday, but not because the school was locked down or because there had been any kind of a threat. In accordance with policy, police were called in response to a student disruption, administrators said.
It's a zero-tolerance situation.
So far, the rumors of threats are just that, rumors, according to district officials.
"Rumors have been circulating about a potential school shooting and other threats," Superintendent Brandon Hufnagel said in a Thursday press release. "At this time, all such rumors have been found to not be credible."
"No schools have been locked down and continue to operate with security procedures in place," he said.
A factor that may have contributed to concerns Thursday afternoon was the presence of a state police cruiser at Warren Area High School. Police were called to the school on a disorderly conduct situation involving a 15-year-old female student who allegedly "caused a disturbance in the cafeteria." Police said the student will be charged.
Whether the rumors are credible or not, the district is on alert.
"I assure you that the administration has been taking this very seriously," Hufnagel said. "We have and will continue to investigate all such rumors as student safety is our number one concern."
The district is working with state and local law enforcement agencies.
"We are aware (of the rumors)," Warren-based Pennsylvania State Police Sgt. David Gluth said. State police are looking into the situation.
Gluth said all of the county's law enforcement agencies are aware, involved and ready.
Rumors of threats and concerns are not unique to Warren County schools. The Associated Press reported Thursday afternoon that all of the schools in two Michigan counties canceled classes Thursday and Friday amid "rumored threats of violence..."
In Jamestown, N.Y., Jamestown Public School District and the Jamestown Police Department are working together in response to "rumors of a threat at Jamestown High School."
No credible evidence of a threat was found in that case, but police will increase their presence in and around the schools in the district on Friday.
The Warren County School District will hold normal school hours on Friday. "It is important to understand that we can not divulge our security procedures as this potentially compromises the safety of the students," Hufnagel said.
However, he released some details that will be in effect Friday in addition to the typical security protocols.
All police departments in the county have been contacted and the district has requested some level of police presence at each school building.
Additional staff will be present at each building monitoring both the interior and exterior areas of the school grounds. Among those monitoring the schools will be central office staff and other administrators.
Any assemblies and large gatherings of students scheduled for Friday are canceled, including scheduled sports home and away games and practices. However, the cancellation of athletic events was related to weather concerns, according to school officials.
"Any and all misbehavior of students will not be tolerated. Students who exhibit any behavior issues will be disciplined immediately."
No backpacks will be permitted in school.
Anyone with information about rumors of threats that could help track down the sources is asked to contact the district at 723-6900.
"Even though the rumors are not credible, it still is imperative that we continue to take them seriously," Hufnagel said.
If a concrete threat is made against a school, district officials will take it seriously.
That includes the district working with the appropriate law enforcement agencies to track down the person or people responsible for the threats and prosecuting them.
In the current atmosphere, if a false threat were made in the interest of curtailing school, "that's about as low as you can get," Gluth said. "We would go to great lengths to find out who is responsible."
If the perpetrator is a student, Gluth said that person could be certified as an adult with respect to the case. "They could do jail time over it," he said. "It'd be a felony."
"There's definitely zero tolerance," he said.