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Threats to Detroit-area schools trigger warnings from authorities

Makiah Quinn heard rumors of a threat at school the day before school. Earlier this month, on his social media feed, his classmates shared their fears about a student who might come to school armed.

“I was immediately scared to go to school the next day,” said Makiah, a high school student at Cass Technical High School in Detroit. “It’s hard to tell when they’re joking and when they’re serious. So that made everyone nervous and reluctant.

Threats of school violence have become more common on social media, especially since the deadly shooting in Uvalde Elementary School in Texas in May and Oxford High School in Michigan a year ago this month. The spike prompted state, school and law enforcement officials to warn of harsh action against those caught making threats.

Many threats turned out to be hoaxes. But in a time of heightened awareness of school safety and misinformation, they have increased anxiety and fear among students, staff and families.

Last week, several schools in the metro area – from Detroit to Ferndale Park and Hazel – reported cases of copying jokes or threats being shared on social media. Some communities have ordered closures or early layoffs, while others, including the Detroit Public Schools Community District, have waited, due to the credibility of the threats.

None of the threats reported at Detroit schools in the past week, including at Cass Tech, AL Holmes Academy of Blended Learning and Mumford High School were found to be crediblesaid Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.

“That doesn’t mean we dismiss social media threats,” Vitti said during a November 15 school council meeting. “Each one is investigated and each one is reported to the school community to which the threat relates.”

Not all threats are the same, Vitti warned, and district officials don’t always close schools in response. In many recent cases, students have circulated hoax threats as a prank or in an effort to have school expelled early or cancelled. “This year alone, we would have closed countless schools for countless days if we just closed the school for every threat,” Vitti said.

While the threats are often not real, the potential consequences for students caught posting them are. According to a video shared last week by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, they range from misdemeanor charges for threats of violence against school personnel or students or “malicious use of a telecommunications device” to felony charges. of terrorism for bomb threats.

“Whether it’s real threats made by those who intend to do harm, or pranks by children trying to get a day off, these are real crimes with real consequences,” he said. Nessel said in a statement accompanying the video.

The district was able to identify most of the individuals behind social media threats over the past school year, using cybersecurity tools, Vitti said. “Nearly all of them were removed from their individual schools, recommended for expulsion from the school district, approximately one year, and most of them were also arrested,” he said.

Vitti’s Call to Action for Parents: Monitor Kids’ Social Media Usage.

“You need to monitor your kids’ phones,” he said. “The parent is the adult, not the child. Having a phone is not a right, it’s a privilege.

To Detroit Board of Police Commissioners Meeting last week, Chief Constable James White highlighted the seriousness of online threats. The Detroit Police Department regularly partners with DPSCD Public Safety Officers when enforcing school closures and investigating threats.

“When we see it, we can’t take it lightly,” White said. “This thing can haunt (kids) for the rest of their lives, and they can completely change the course of an otherwise successful life by just one stupid Facebook post.”

With a search warrant, White said, law enforcement agencies can request access to user information from social media companies before making an arrest. White recommended that the city’s police commission organize a forum to educate students about the real risks of posting threats online.

Students said school officials need to do more than fight threats to put students at ease.

“I don’t think they can really stop a student from making a threat,” said Cass Tech sophomore Amira Jones. “But I think (schools) need to work on their safety, like using metal detectors instead of just letting people walk through them. They really have to pay attention to what’s going on.

Amira said that from her classroom on the sixth floor of the building, she wondered how she could get out of school if something were to happen.

“I think the thing that worries me the most is not knowing if it’s real or not,” Amira said. “I like to know if something is really going to happen or not. And I think not knowing is what made me start thinking too much.

Others wanted school officials to acknowledge students’ fears.

“If so many students didn’t feel safe, we should have had that day off, just for everyone’s safety and just for peace of mind as well,” said Cass Tech senior Makiah.

Some of his classmates used their class’s group chat to share messages, periodically warning others to “be careful” and “watch your back.” When word broke among Cass Tech students that Ferndale Middle School and High School were both on lockdownit only heightened the anxiety.

“I was quite nervous,” Makiah said. “I wasn’t even able to concentrate on school work anyway, so there was no point being there.”

Schools that have been the target of social media threats have benefited from an increased police presence in the past week.

Vicki Hooks Green, an English teacher at Cass Tech, said that given the increased security, she was not personally concerned about the threat of social media at her school.

“I think threats should be taken seriously, because children should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for doing it, but I don’t think we should take it so seriously that we are afraid” , said Green.

But she worries about the time it takes away from the classroom. Even “if it’s five or six kids who don’t come because of the threat,” she said, it means “I have to take in those kids and everything they miss.”

Ethan Bakuli is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit covering the Detroit Public Schools Community District. Contact Ethan at [email protected].

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