Capital Region

Many school districts address violence concerns Friday

A Niskayuna policer vehicle is parked near the main entrance to Niskayuna High School on Friday..
PHOTOGRAPHER:

A Niskayuna policer vehicle is parked near the main entrance to Niskayuna High School on Friday..

CAPITAL REGION — School districts in the greater area dealt with concerns surrounding school violence and threats made in the last couple of days on popular social media platforms such as TikTok and Snapchat on Friday.

Posts circulating on the popular social media app TikTok suggested school shootings would take place across the nation on Friday. The alleged threats came just over two weeks after a shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan left four students dead. Those posts and others on different social media platforms did have impacts locally. 

Some districts locally received unfounded threats.

  • Schenectady City School District placed Oneida Middle School into lockout, following an unfounded threat posted on social media platform Snapchat.
  • Gloversville Central School District received two unfounded threats online. 

Other districts saw an increase in absences on Friday.

  • Shenendehowa Central School District had 38 teachers who called out. 
  • Mohonasen Central School District had lower attendance at two of its schools; 27% of students were absent at Pinewood Elementary School, while nearly 21% of students did not attend classes at Draper Middle School.

A handful of school districts even decided to cancel in-person learning for the day or close school altogether.

  • Galway Central School District canceled school Friday after a door to one of the schools was open when school faculty arrived for work. Following an investigation, police determined that an intruder, unrelated to trending social media posts, had broken into the building. 
  • Averill Park Central School District canceled school Friday out of an abundance of caution after discovering an unfounded threat against the school Thursday.
  • Whitehall Central School District made a decision Thursday to go all-virtual in light of the online posts regarding school violence. 

In addition to larger numbers of students being absent, concerns about the threats also led to larger police presences at area schools.

SCHENECTADY COUNTY

Schenectady City School District placed Oneida Middle School in a lockout Friday morning after a student made district officials aware of a threat posted on Snapchat that was directed at the school. 

After combing the school for bombs and anything else suspicious, city police said the threat in the post was unfounded. 

It’s the second time in three months such a threat has been made against the school. 

During a lockout, nobody can enter the building until the measure is lifted, said Karen Corona, the director of communication and public information for the district. Classes continued as normal while the building was searched by police. 

“The source of the Snapchat is not even in this country,” said Pat Irwin, the public information officer for the police department. 

However, Irwin said the person behind the post is affiliated with the district, but could not provide further detail as the matter is still under investigation.

Even with the threats, attendance levels for both students and teachers was typical, said Corona. 

“It’s unfortunate that we live in a society where people, including young ones, use social media to express themselves instead of seeking appropriate help,” said Schenectady Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. “Our top priority is to ensure a safe environment and one in which we can focus on teaching and learning. Any type of threat and what has been circulating throughout social media is a distraction to teaching and learning.”

He said social media platforms should be “held to some standards and accountability” and anonymous posts, including threats, should not be allowed.    

Other districts, such as Mohonasen Central School District, saw a significant number of students absent on Friday. 

There are about 630 students at each of the schools in the district, Shine said. On Friday, however, 170 students were absent from Pinewood Elementary School while 130 students were absent from Draper Middle School. 

“I can assume similar numbers for the other two buildings, so it’s quite significant in terms of absences,” Shine said.  

Niskayuna noticed a similar situation Friday as well. 

“There was an increased police presence in our schools today, which was not the result of any specific concern, but certainly was a source of comfort and calm,” said Matt Leon, the district spokesperson. “We did have a higher than usual number of student absences today – no data on exactly why but it seems reasonable to think the TikTok issue could be a factor.”

Scotia-Glenville Central School District had police officers outside both its middle and high schools as students arrived on Friday morning. Superintendent Susan Swartz did not return a request for additional comment. 

Dunaesburg also had officers at its two buildings, said Superintendent James Niedermeier. 

“It is very unfortunate that some choose to play upon people’s fears in this way,” he said. “We will continue to do everything possible to ensure that our schools are as safe as they can be.” 

FULTON COUNTY

Fulton County schools were not spared by the situation. 

Gloversville Central School District received at least two online threats, according to Superintendent David Halloran. Both school officials and law enforcement don’t believe any of the threats were credible, Halloran said, adding the district never came close to closing. 

“That was never part of the conversation. I never discussed that notion with anybody because it never even came close to that point,” Halloran said.  

Still, some parents and students were clearly spooked, because Halloran said the district-wide attendance percentage was in the mid 70s Friday, compared to being in the 90s on a typical day. 

Halloran said while he can understand some level of concern in an era of school shootings and other attacks, he was disappointed that so many students stayed home even after the district deemed the situation safe. 

“This is disappointing. It is our challenge in the best of times to keep children in the building. Students need to be in school to be successful, and it sends a message that people don’t value what we’re selling here, and that’s unfortunate because we’re selling futures, we’re building a better tomorrow for the students in this district, and they need to be here in order to participate in that.”

In the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District, attendance was down about 5% to 10%, according to Superintendent Stephen Tomlinson. 

While the district didn’t receive any direct threats, around five students shared potentially threatening posts that hinted it may not be safe to come to school on Friday, according to Tomlinson. 

“It only takes one [post] that gets shared and then it creates that panic,” Tomlinson said. But, as in Gloversville, Broadalbin-Perth didn’t close schools because the postings weren’t seen as serious threats, Tomlinson said. 

“With the support and agreement from law enforcement, we don’t see any possibility of unsafe conditions in our school system,” he said.  

Mayfield Central School District was also impacted by non-specific threats.

“Mayfield schools were absolutely affected,” said Betsy DeMars, a district spokesperson. “A number of students didn’t come, some got picked up early, and parents were calling the schools about it. So, yes, it absolutely had an impact today.”

SARATOGA COUNTY

Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo said the department had upped its presence at all public schools throughout the county with additional patrol officers. Zurlo said the department would monitor the schools until the end of Friday.

As of late Friday morning, there were no incidents, except for the Saratoga County Sheriff Department’s investigation of a burglary at Galway High School.

Zurlo said that at about 4:30 a.m., a maintenance worker entered the cafeteria area and saw a man rifling through a cash register.

The suspect fled out the door and into the woods.

While the incident remains under investigation, Zurlo said it had nothing to do with the suggestion on TikTok that school shootings would take place nationally.

The nationwide threat may have also resulted in attendance concerns at some schools. 

At Shenendehowa High School in Clifton Park, a district spokesperson said 38 teachers were absent Friday, while 21 of those classes did not have substitute teachers. 

MONTGOMERY COUNTY

Other than an increased police presence at Greater Amsterdam School District facilities on Friday, the school day also progressed as normal. 

The district was recently subject to a pair of threats via social media that law enforcement ultimately determined were not credible. Superintendent Richard Ruberti said in each instance those responsible were identified by police within roughly an hour and criminal charges were filed.

Many other districts in Montgomery County did not have any messages on their websites related to the unfounded threats circulating social media nor state whether there was an increased police presence at their schools. 

Reporters Brian Lee and Andrew Waite contributed to this story.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, Saratoga County, Schenectady County

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