Fayette district releases more details about 'unsubstantiated' school threat

jwarren@herald-leader.comNovember 4, 2013 

Police went to Tates Creek High School, parents were emailed, a student was questioned and the school day was disrupted Monday, all because of what Fayette Schools officials called "unsubstantiated" rumors spread via social media over the weekend.

Superintendent Tom Shelton said school officials received a tip Friday that a Tates Creek student had made a threat involving "some level of violence that might happen at the school."

Shelton said officials launched an investigation, including interviews with the student and his parents and a visit to their home. They found "no indication that there was ever any threat, either made verbally or in writing" by the student, he said.

Nevertheless, online rumors about possible school violence at Tates Creek — and other county schools — continued Monday morning, even after an email was sent Sunday to Tates Creek parents calling the reports "unsubstantiated."

As precaution, Lexington police and school district enforcement officers provided extra security at Tates Creek on Monday morning. There were no problems, and attendance did not suffer, Shelton said.

In a similar case in December 2012, nearly a third of the students at Henry Clay High School left school or didn't show up because of rumors circulated on social media. A 16-year-old student ultimately was charged with terroristic threatening in that case.

"Social media, texting, email and all those things are great tools," the superintendent told reporters Monday morning at his office. "We're glad we have them; we're glad students use them. It's the digital age we live in. But they can also allow something like this to spiral out of control."

The district is offering support to the student identified in the rumors. The student did not attend class Monday.

"That student was brought into a situation and alleged to have said or done something that they didn't do," Shelton said. "Now, we have to worry about what will the repercussions be for that student when they come back to school.

"We're developing a plan for how he would transition back into the school, and how we would support him to make sure he is safe and not treated inappropriately."

The district has no policy of punishing students for sharing unsubstantiated rumors online. In part, that's because officials don't want to discourage students from reporting potential problems to the district, Shelton said.

"We want students to feel comfortable to come and share with us," he said. "But it's something that ... can get completely out of control very quickly just because it's so easy to communicate today."

The school district takes all reported threats seriously, he said.

"We always investigate, whether it's a statement a child makes, whether it's a note we find," he said. "We have to take them all very seriously because there is nothing more important than the safety of our students and staff."

Shelton said any students who were held out of school by their parents on Monday because of the situation will receive excused absences.

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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