Several unreliable social media threats targeting schools in Virginia have surfaced in the past two weeks, following the Nov. 30 shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan that left four people dead.
Last week, a social media post encouraging students to participate in a campus disruption prompted the principal of Wilder High School in Henrico to take extra precautions. Teachers and staff were tasked with monitoring transitions, structuring bathroom breaks, and escorting students through lunch.
“My administrators and advisers are doing their best to investigate any possible threat to the safety and well-being of the students,” principal Erica Broudy wrote in an email to the families. “Parents, we need your help. Please speak with your child (ren) and share your expectations for their behavior. Your child deserves a quality education, and our teachers want to provide a safe and secure environment for them.
The previous week, rumors of violence at Tucker High School had spread on social media. Additional police officers monitored the school “out of caution,” according to an email from director Art Raymond.
“Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for school divisions to see social media posts or rumors of violence in schools following a tragedy such as the Detroit school shooting,” said Henrico County Public Schools spokesperson Eileen Cox. “The HCPS has a strong partnership with the Henrico Police, and we all take any mention of violence in our schools very seriously. With the support of our school administrators, the police usually get to the source of the message or rumor very quickly. ”
The recent non-credible threats involving schools in Henrico as well as other divisions across the Commonwealth began to appear days after the Oxford High School shooting.
“There is a contagion effect that we are experiencing in terms of suicides, shootings, bad things that happen and people copy what they see,” said Jeff Temple, a professor and psychologist in the medical branch of the University of Texas who studies adolescent violence. “Coupled with the real adolescent mental health crisis caused by COVID and everything in between, we are seeing more and more of it. ”
Two unrelated social media threats involving Varina High School and Highland Springs High School happened in September.
The student who posted a gun photo mentioning Varina High was treated by law enforcement and ultimately received a diversion, which was successful, according to police. The threat was deemed not credible as the minor had no known weapon to carry out the threat, police said at the time.
Following the threat from Highland Springs High, Alicia Atkins, a member of the Henrico School Board, suggested form a committee to help assess the impact of social media on children’s health. No such committee has been formed yet, according to school board president Roscoe Cooper III, but “discussions are currently underway on integrating … social media awareness policies,” he said. he declares.
Before 13-year-old Lucia Bremer was shot on March 26, the suspect posted a video on social media depicting a school shooting accompanied by a caption about the commission of a school shooting, according to the Henrico Commonwealth lawyer Shannon Taylor. Law enforcement officials did not know about the post until after Bremer was killed, according to Taylor.
Anyone who communicates a threat in writing, including on social media, to kill or injure someone on the grounds of K-12 school can be charged with a Class 6 felony, according to Virginia. law.
“Even when a person posts on social media as a joke, the consequences are serious,” Cox said. “The result is more often than not criminal charges and discipline at school. “
The HCPS Code of Conduct for Students includes a range of consequences for threats of violence up to a recommendation of expulsion.
“Children are especially anxious, they’re anxious, they’re depressed, and that’s going to increase the likelihood of misbehaving,” Temple said. “On top of that, we have a shortage of teachers and school counselors, who are not only short-staffed, but they are tired and fatigued, and there just isn’t enough time in the day to go. meet all those kids.
“You are going to have more children who fall through the cracks, and they will be the ones who make these threats.”
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Anna Bryson is the educational reporter for Henrico Citizen and a member of the Report for America corps. Make a tax deductible donation to support his work, and RFA will match him dollar for dollar.