Scores of Michigan schools close amid threats following Oxford shootings
Scores of Michigan school districts closed Friday because of threats or stress on staff and students following the shooting rampage at Oxford High School Tuesday.
The Michigan Department of Education doesn’t track closings in real time. But most schools in Genesee County and Oakland County, where Oxford is located, were closed, along with individual school districts and charter schools across the state. Ann Arbor Public Schools closed. Detroit Public Schools Community District was already scheduled to be closed today because of staffing shortages.
A school closings list maintained by WXYZ-TV in Detroit listed 86 public, private and charter schools closed Friday in metro Detroit alone. On the west side of Michigan, Watervliet Public Schools, Ionia Public Schools, Chippewa Hills School District and Fruitport Community Schools closed Friday “out of an abundance of caution,” according to WoodTV.
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All told across the state, there were more than 150 school districts, charter and parochial schools shuttered because of threats, according to Michigan School Closings, a service that tracks closures by searching school websites and news reports. It’s listings could not be immediately independently verified.
“We have never seen this many closings, due to online threats,” said a Tweet from Michigan School Closings.
In school announcements reviewed by Bridge Michigan, it appeared that, as of Friday morning, schools planned to reopen classrooms Monday.
Webberville Community Schools, in rural Ingham County, is among the districts that closed Friday, citing threats and rumors similar to those spreading on social media across Michigan in the days after a sophomore was charged with killing four and wounding seven others at Oxford High.
Webberville’s experience illustrates the challenge for school districts in the wake of the shooting rampage, where the number of rumors spreading on social media and shared with concern by students and families are outpacing police efforts to investigate them.
“Several mid-Michigan school districts received reports of potential copycat statements or threats following the tragic events at Oxford High School,” Webberville Superintendent Andy Smith wrote to families Thursday. “Please know that our administration and local law enforcement take all potential threats VERY seriously.
“Today, our administration worked with local law enforcement to investigate concerns shared with us from students and parents. After following up on this information, we were advised there were no imminent or specific threats to our school district.
“This evening we received additional reports of concerning conversations and/or statements. We have begun our investigation into these situations with local law enforcement as well. Out of an abundance of caution and to provide adequate time to fully investigate these concerns, Webberville Community Schools will be closed on Friday, December 3.”
Ann Arbor also announced its buildings were closing Friday because of “potential threats of violence.”
Plymouth-Canton Community Schools closed, telling families “our local law enforcement officials have been investigating threats circulating on social media throughout the night and early morning. We have made the decision to close all schools today in order to provide adequate time for law enforcement to complete their investigation.”
On Thursday, Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, whose office is probing the Oxford shootings, said many of the threats spreading on social media are false. He cited one example of a countdown clock that people feared was a countdown to another shooting spree, that actually was a clock from a local bar counting down the time until a band was taking the stage.
Schools, though, have little choice but to take threats seriously until they are investigated by police.
On Friday, a 17-year-old Flint Southwest Classical Academy student was charged with making a false threat of terrorism and using a computer for a crime, for allegedly threatening to shoot up his school. Both are felonies with a maximum sentence of 20 years.
The student recorded a video on her phone while riding a bus to school Friday morning, in a rap-style message threatening to shoot up the school “like Oxford.”
“It is not a joke, it is a crime, and it will be treated as such,” Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said in a statement Friday.
Dakota High School, in Chippewa Valley Schools in Macomb County, told families in a letter it was staying open Friday because threats at the school had been investigated and found not to be credible.
“To our students, please be responsible when posting on social media,” Dakota Principal Kevin Koskos wrote. “If you see something that is concerning, please report it to us or local law enforcement.”
State Superintendent Michael Rice told The Detroit News Thursday that those who make online threats against students and schools should be prosecuted and face “significant consequences.”
"An individual who threatens a school should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Rice told the News. "And this is a grievous crime. It is not funny. It is not play. It is disrupting school communities.”
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