York County schools on edge after Parkland, threats

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch

It’s been a little more than a week since a former student shot and killed 17 people and wounded more than a dozen at a public high school in Parkland, Florida, and in that time there have been threats made at six school districts in York County, with heightened alarm at several others.

Separate threats were reported at South Western School District, Central York School District, Dover Area School District, Southern York County School District, Hanover Public School District and most recently, Eastern York School District on Wednesday, Feb. 21.

Springettsbury Township Police Chief Daniel Stump, left, and District Attorney Dave Sunday appear at a press update on threats of violence that led to the district closing schools Thursday, February 22, 2018. Bill Kalina photo

While threats made through social media at South Western, Dover, and Southern were found not to be viable, Springettsbury Township Police continue to investigate threats at Central York, which canceled classes for a third day on Friday, Feb. 23.

At Eastern York, an investigation was initiated into alleged threats toward a teacher and student at the high school and Wrightsville Elementary School on Wednesday, Feb. 21, according to letters posted on the district's website.

The threats — both overheard comments from students — did not pose an immediate safety risk to students at the schools, according to district.

"There is no tolerance for weapons and/or the threat of weapons on our school campuses," one of the letters stated.

In a joint letter to Eastern York School District parents early Wednesday, Superintendent Darla Pianowski and Eastern York Middle School Principal Brian Shoemaker stated a fire drill at Eastern York middle and high schools on Feb. 20 was initiated by a verbal announcement over the school’s intercom instead of using the alarm system so as not to startle students amid increased tension stemming from the Parkland incident.

The letter also mentions a map drawn by students that was obtained by administrators pursuing a perceived threat. Instead, administrators determined students were discussing escape routes in case of a safety incident occurring at the district.

“It is unfortunate that recent events have placed many of our students in this heightened state,” the letter states.

More:Police presence increased at Dover schools despite 'no threat'

More:Officials seek help in Central York threats

More:Classes at Central York schools canceled Wednesday amid threat investigation

Other districts: In response to the recent events in both Parkland and York County, several other local districts have announced plans to increase security and social media-monitoring within their circles.

Spring Grove Area School District posted a message on its website offering sympathies to those affected by the shooting in Florida while restating its security measures to protect against a similar incident happening within its facilities.

People pay homage at the memorial crosses for the 17 deceased students and faculty from the Wednesday shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. Nikolas Cruz, a former student, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder on Thursday. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

In a letter posted on the York Suburban School District website, Acting Superintendent Larry Redding said while the district has not received threats to school safety, the district had an increased police presence Wednesday, Feb. 21, including by both Spring Garden Township and Springettsbury Township police to further ensure safety

"We need everyone's help," the letter stated. "If you see something or hear something, let us know."

Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Redding said school districts across the state have revamped emergency preparedness plans to protect against dangerous intruders and threats such as the one that occurred in Parkland.

York Suburban staff members have  undergone training known as ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) to respond and survive an active-shooter attack.

Redding said school administrators are under a unique challenge monitoring threats through social media because of the rapid spread of rumors through repostings.

“The challenge is filtering out the real concerns for information from the actual threats posted online,” he said.

Redding said an online post Wednesday morning reflected that exact scenario. People were re-posting concerns about a threat made in Central York happening in York Suburban, even though there was no such threat in Suburban.

“One of the analogies is ... when someone in a movie theater says 'fire' and there really isn’t a fire,” he said. “That’s what we want to guard against — people being callous against what is real.”

Dr. Larry R. Redding, York Suburban School District acting superintendent, Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. John A. Pavoncello photo

Transparency: While York Suburban has not faced a direct threat as of Wednesday, Feb. 21, Redding said it is important to reach out to the community during tense times.

“There’s often a lack of trust from our general public that if we’re not providing information, we must be hiding something,” he said.

He said being proactive and alerting residents on the district’s efforts on school safety creates both trust and peace of mind, especially in moments after a mass school shooting.

“The first thought I had when I heard about Parkland was, ‘OK, how is that going to impact the students of York Suburban School District and (for us to) combat any potential copycats and students that are disgruntled?’” he said.

“Fortunately, there are procedures we have in place and have a great relationship with law enforcement to protect against that.”