Threat fears decrease

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Although there are still some concerns in the community, USD 234 Superintendent Diane Gross said fears of violence at Fort Scott High School have decreased.

In a letter to parents Thursday, Gross explained there had been a prank phone call to Winfield Scott Elementary School earlier in the week, saying there was an intruder and a fire on campus.

Gross said there was also a rumor of someone bringing weapons to FSHS Friday and shooting staff and students, tied in with the prognostication of the Mayan calendar that Friday would mark the end of the world. Postings on social media helped fan the flames.

The incidents popped up following a Dec. 14 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children and six adults were killed.

As of Friday afternoon, the atmosphere at USD 234 was "better than yesterday (Thursday)," Gross said. She was still getting some parents' phone calls and was trying to reassure people that the students were safe.

"I think it will be better once people have a break and come back after the first of the year," Gross said.

The U-234 board office will be open Dec. 27 and 28, but students and staff don't return to school until Jan. 3. "I think there are still some concerns out there, but again, it's calmed down much more than it was (Thursday) and I anticipate that in due time, we'll be back to the business of teaching and learning," Gross added.

Large gatherings at FSHS Thursday included the presence of Gross and police officers. Gross said that helped show the community the district cares about the safety and security of students and residents.

She said she had received a number of complimentary e-mails Friday.

People in the community were "very appreciative of our administrators, too," Gross said.

She expressed gratitude to police and fire personnel and school staff and classroom teachers, who she said did a "tremendous job" of reassuring students and alleviating the "rumors and assumptions people were making.

"I think one of the things, from my viewpoint, is seeing the assembly at the high school during the morning (Thursday) and how smoothly that went, really putting a focus back on our kids. I think that goes a long way, and then the concert (Thursday) night and how many folks from the community who were there," Gross said.

She commended the students and staff on the first-ever combination band, choir and orchestra performance.

Interim Fort Scott Police Chief Travis Shelton said police have not received any other information, cases or incidents. "I think a lot of people are concerned, but nobody has reported a direct threat," Shelton said.

"We're trying to follow up on some of these concerns, but we have not, again, identified a direct threat to the school or students," Shelton added.

If needed when school resumes, Shelton said police will be there. "We're always in the school zones and things like that," he said. "... If there's a concern as far as direct safety issues, we'll address them as they come."

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