A few detailed and violent paragraphs of an essay turned in weeks ago as a Youngsville High School English assignment caused panic at the school on Friday, but school district and law enforcement officials gave assurances there was no cause for alarm.
According to reports, a majority of the student body was taken out of school by parents on Friday after rumors spread that a student had written about shooting up the school.
"This morning the Sheriff along with deputies responded to the Youngsville High School along with other law enforcement concerning alleged threats at the school," according to a statement posted on the Warren County Sheriff's Office Facebook page. "These threats were not credible."
Times Observer photo by Rob Andersen
Officers from the Youngsville Police Department and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office were at Youngsville High School briefly Friday afternoon. A photo pasted on Facebook showing a portion of a student’s essay was taken out of context, according to officials, leading to many students leaving the school.
"It has come to our attention that a picture of the first two paragraphs of an essay written by a YHS student is being circulated via social media," according to a release issued Friday by Amy Stewart, the Warren County School District's director of administrative support services. "The two paragraphs, in isolation, can be alarming to anyone that does not have all of the information about this situation."
The details of the two paragraphs in the essay included particular weapons, the time of day and the number of people, including police officers, who were killed in the attack.
The portion of the essay that was reportedly made public on social media did not include a line later in the essay that reads, "The above is fictitious," Warren County School District Superintendent Dr. William Clark said Friday afternoon.
Nor did those who spread the rumor relate that the essay was written about video games and school violence.
The existence of the essay was not a surprise in the district. "Administration was made aware of this essay at the beginning of March," according to the district's press release. "A YHS student had written a persuasive essay for English class that contained two paragraphs that could be considered a threat."
"At that time, administration reviewed the entire paper and worked with the student, the parents, teachers, school personnel and law enforcement to determine if the threat was credible," Stewart wrote. "It was determined that it was not a credible threat."
According to Clark, that statement was released to pass along information to parents in Youngsville and throughout the school district, and to help prevent an escalation of the situation
Some visitors reported being held longer than usual at the YHS door. However, the building was not locked down on Friday, Sheriff Ken Klakamp and district officials said.
"You can rest assured that law enforcement was aware and had there been any doubt that a child would or could have been harmed it would have been dealt with," according to Sheriff's Office statement.
Neither a location nor a date were given in the essay or in any other way. The timing of the panic seems to be related to the spread of the rumor.
"Some(one) apparently got their hands on the essay and took a photo of a small portion of the essay and it was blown out of (pro)portion," according to Sheriff's Office statement. "Then someone took upon themselves that today was the date the shooting was going to take place."
"This has taken on a life of its own on social meda which we cannot control," Clark said.
Administrators have not determined exactly how the portion of the essay became public. "I don't know how that transpired in school," Clark said. "We haven't bird-dogged that yet."
He said the district fielded numerous calls about the situation. "We're getting calls and making sure we answer them," Clark said. "We're addressing the situation head on."
Clark said the district did assure those callers, "We were aware of the situation and we're looking into the situation."
Still, numerous parents took students out of school for the remainder of the day. "If they felt that responsibility, that was their call," Clark said.
Because of the "unique circumstances," Clark said he does not expect the district and the school to levy any disciplinary consequences on students who were removed on Friday. Those unique circumstances do not extend into the future. "If we continue to have (elevated absenteeism), we'll have to review it," he said.
Students with concerns are encouraged to talk to school officials, Clark said. "They're going to the office, sharing the information that they know on how they're feeling."
"They can always go to the office and tell us how they're feeling," he said. "We're here to help kids."
The building was short an administrator on Friday with Principal Phil Knapp attending a meeting in Hershey.
Clark did not comment on disciplinary action regarding the student who wrote the essay. "They still have First Amendment rights and we have to be cognizant of that," he said.