Bad weather used to be the main reason schools closed until COVID, and until social media—the latter of which is now closing classrooms far more regularly than is the pandemic.
Social media and other digital forms of communication have been a lifeline for young people coping with isolation over the last two years. But some students have used the speed and seeming anonymity of the internet to make serious threats that, even when they’re empty or meant as “pranks,” force administrators and police to investigate on an almost daily basis somewhere in the U.S.—and often close schools.. The deluge of threats cuts across districts of all sizes and demographic makeup and is happening in all parts of the country.
In New York, the Poughkeepsie City School District’s middle school and high school returned to in-person learning Thursday after an investigation into a social media threat resulted in police arresting at least one district student.
A social media post made Sunday threatened a shooting, which forced the schools to go remote on Monday. Then, another threat discovered on Tuesday kept the schools remote over the next two days, according to the Poughkeepsie Journal. Police say they charged a 15-year-old girl with four counts of making a terroristic threat, a felony, and arrested an 11-year-old girl for allegedly posting a threat on Snapchat, according to the newspaper’s website.
The district has brought in a local crisis response team to provide counseling for students and staff who were traumatized. “Since social media has resulted in the arrest of three PCSD students this school year, parents are strongly encouraged to speak with their child about the proper use of social media,” the district said on its website.
Last week, Marshall Public Schools in Michigan was shut down for a day after several students, parents, and staff members reported that threats were being posted on social media. A police investigation that quickly identified the alleged source resulted in expulsions and schools reopened the following day.
Indeed, these incidents all seem to follow a similar script resembling the events in Marshall schools. Students or other community members report the threat and administrators often shut schools, impose lockdowns, or evacuate buildings while police investigate. In many cases, police are able to identify the source quickly and search homes for weapons or any other sign that the threats were credible or even possible. Arrests and expulsions often ensue.
On Tuesday, a high school student in Green Bay, Wisconsin, was barred from using social media and required to write a paper on the consequences of school shootings, Fox11Online.com reported. Earlier this month, two teenage girls received a similar sentence for making threats to the same high school. The threat forced the Green Bay Area Public School District to close a number of high and middle schools for several days in December, Fox11Online.com reported.
Other closures and arrests occurring over the last month:
- NEW YORK: A student was arrested earlier this week near Niagara Falls for allegedly posting a threat against their middle school, WGRZ.com reported. In a separate incident in the same region, police said a 12-year-old Lewiston-Porter Middle School student is facing charges—including making a terroristic threat, menacing, aggravated harassment, and conspiracy—in connection with a threat made on Snapchat, WGRZ.com reported.
- MICHIGAN: Police arrested a 15-year-old Lake Fenton High School student for allegedly posting a threat to Snapchat that featured a picture of two assault rifles with the caption, “Don’t go to school tomorrow.” School administrators were initially alerted to the post by an out-of-county law enforcement agency, ABC12.com reported.
- CALIFORNIA: A youth was taken into custody on March 19 after several social media threats were made against high schools in Newport-Mesa USD. Police determined the youth did not have the means to carry out the threats, Patch.com reported. Elsewhere, a juvenile at Willits High School student was arrested after community members reported a social media threat and police determined the youth allegedly had the ability to carry out the threats, authorities said.
- WASHINGTON: The Grand Coulee Dam School District closed both of its buildings on March 16 after a threat appeared on Snapchat. Law enforcement determined the threat to not be credible and schools reopened.
- INDIANA: A 15-year-old student at rural Seymour High School, part of Seymour Community Schools, was arrested after a faculty member reported receiving a screenshot of a threatening social media conversation, local police said on Facebook on March 16.
- MARYLAND: A 14-year-old was arrested after authorities discovered a social media threat that allegedly mentioned the use of “mustard gas” at Urbana High School in Frederick County Public Schools, FoxBaltimore.com reported. Police say the student watched a TikTok video about making mustard gas, then shared the video on Snapchat, accompanied by a threat and later brought bleach to school, which resulted in an evacuation of the building, according to the website.
- ARKANSAS: The Fordyce School District was closed on March 2 after a threat was discovered on Snapchat.
- NEW JERSEY: Long Branch Public Schools in New Jersey closed all its buildings on Feb. 28 after a threat surfaced on Instagram. The district reopened the next day, according to the Asbury Park Press.