By Ashley M. Casey
Parents unleashed a flurry of comments on the North Syracuse Central School District’s Facebook page last week, criticizing the district’s response to a possible threat of violence on social media.
According to Sgt. Jon Seeber, public information officer for the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office, a student from North Syracuse Junior High School posted an Instagram photo of a pistol with the caption “fight me now” on the evening of Sunday, March 26. Concerned that the post was hinting at a school shooting, parents and students contacted law enforcement and the school district.
After conducting an investigation and visiting the student’s home to interview the family, the sheriff’s office concluded there was no credible threat of violence.
The school district sent a text message notifying parents of the incident at 7:22 a.m. Monday, March 27. The message read, “NSCSD: Activity on social media last night indicated NSJH students concerned for school violence. Sheriffs Dept involved in investigation. Students safe.”
Three hours later, the district published a letter from Superintendent Annette Speach explaining the district’s response.
“Although the situation unfolded late Sunday evening, we needed to allow the police to conduct their investigation before communicating a potentially inaccurate message to the community,” Speach said in her letter. “A statement was released this morning as soon as district officials were made aware of the outcome of the investigation.”
While the district assured families that their children were safe, it was clear from several comments on the district’s Facebook post about Speach’s letter that many parents and students did not feel safe.
Here is a sample of the comments, most of which expressed anger and disappointment with the way North Syracuse schools handled the situation:
• Keith Williams: “What is this about? I find this out after my kid already got picked up for school?! What’s going on? What shooting? If some sick twisted kid is going into school today I want to know!”
• Jessica Nunez: “My daughter told me she found out that kids were staying home after she was already on the bus. I told her if this was going on since last night, the school would have notified parents. I told her she would be fine, not to worry. Then 15 minutes later I get the text from the district.”
• Ellen Anagnostopoulos: “I agree with everyone who is outraged with this poor, late communication. As parents, we should have known sooner and had the opportunity to make decisions about whether or not to send our children to school today.”
Not all commenters believed the district’s response was too little, too late. Lester Wilson wrote that parents were overreacting.
“Some kid says something stupid on social media and you all lose your minds. The school district notified the sheriff’s office to check it out — who determined the kid was just being a dopey kid not thinking that people would overreact to this,” Wilson wrote. “Kids say stupid stuff — that’s what they do. You all gotta toughen up a bit. I sent my kid off to school today with no qualms.”
However, Audra Horne, a parent of three students in the North Syracuse district, told the Star-Review she witnessed fear among other parents with whom she works and heard conflicting information about the social media post in question.
Horne said she had already decided to keep her junior high student at home because he had a doctor’s appointment, but she opted to also keep her two elementary school-aged children out of school after she learned of the possible threat.
“My kid’s already on the bus — I didn’t get a choice,” she recalled one of her co-workers saying.
Horne expressed frustration about the timing of the district’s notification and said parents should have been informed of the threat immediately.
“I get texts all day about fundraisers … but you tell us something like this after they’re already on the bus?” Horne said. “The school knew about it the night before. If you guys knew about it the night before, why did you tell us after school started at 7:20?”
The superintendent’s letter and the text message from the district were vague about the nature of the threat, Horne said.
“I control the social media outlets my son uses. I don’t think my son knew this kid or saw [the posts],” she said. “Exactly what is the threat? I didn’t see the social media post, I see what other parents are saying.”
Horne still has a number of unanswered questions about the incident.
“There’s no follow up information. Is this kid being charged? Do I need to feel threatened that my kid is at school with this kid walking around? What are the repercussions?” she asked.
Sgt. Seeber said no charges have been filed in the incident, but the student who made the post “has been advised that the post was inappropriate,” according to NewsChannel 9.
Horne noted that the junior high does not have a metal detector, and there is only one school resource officer at the building.
“Now I just don’t know exactly how safe my kid is there,” she said. “I’m sure it’s the same feeling every parent has at this point.”
The district did not respond to requests for comment.
Ashley M. Casey is a reporter for The Baldwinsville Messenger and The Eagle Star-Review. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 and previously worked for the Scotsman Press.