It seems almost inevitable that every dramatic, horrible crime, such as the recent mass murder at a high school in Florida, will inspire more misbehavior. Few will actually try to re-enact that crime, thank heaven, but there will be those who feel free to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Sad, but that’s the way it is.
It’s a juvenile impulse, so it’s generally juveniles who do it, and that puts school administrators in a difficult position. They don’t want to overreact — no one’s life should be upended, no one’s school career should be ruined, over one childish stunt — and yet the schools can’t very well allow one or two students to terrorize their fellow students or cause schoolwide chaos. School principals and superintendents can’t appear to be underreacting to situations that evoke parents’ worst fears for their children’s safety.
In the aftermath of what happened in Florida, there were several provocations at area schools, two in Wallingford and one each in Cheshire and Berlin. We offer kudos to the administrators involved, who handled these incidents with restraint and good sense.
A 15-year-old female student at Sheehan High School was charged after reportedly writing a threatening message on a classroom whiteboard. The message, which police say she admitted to writing, was discovered after school on a Tuesday, prompting a police presence at the school for the rest of the week. The student was issued a summons to appear in New Haven Superior Court and was suspended from school.
Police also charged a 16-year-old male Sheehan student with breach of peace after he reportedly yelled “Take cover!” while walking by a classroom, disrupting the class and causing students to lock the classroom door.
At Cheshire High School, police charged a student with first-degree threatening “based on comments made by this student.” In a message to parents posted on social media, School Superintendent Jeff Solan said the student made “serious” but generic threats.
Berlin police sent officers to all the schools in the district after receiving a message from the Department of Homeland Security about a “concerning post” with a Berlin internet protocol address — a unique number that can be used to locate an internet user.
There was also a different type of incident at Meriden’s Maloney High School, where a 22-year-old man went to school with his 17-year-old brother and posed as a student. When a suspicious teacher called the school office, he fled. Although there was no threat, both brothers face criminal charges.
In none of these cases did authorities determine that there was a specific and credible threat, but school officials, working with police, took firm and appropriate action and kept parents informed. Nevertheless, several people on social media in Berlin said they picked up their children from school after receiving notification of the police presence.
“We would not still have school if it wasn’t safe,” said Berlin Superintendent of Schools Brian Benigni. It’s important for parents to know why the police were in the building, he said.
“While no educator enters the profession with the goal of disciplining students,” Wallingford School Superintendent Sal Menzo said in a statement to parents, “we must always balance this need with our ultimate goal to help all students learn from such circumstances. As we continue to reflect on what happened in Parkland, Florida, I want to ask that all families please share with your children the severity of making comments or posting anything that may appear to be a threat and result in a significant disruption to the school environment.”
Words of wisdom indeed.