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Metro Detroit school districts cancel classes over social media posts in wake of Oxford

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

In the wake of a shooting at Oxford High School that left four students dead, multiple Metro Detroit school districts are canceling classes Thursday and some Friday amid reports of social media messages some have interpreted as threatening similar violence, officials said.

The Troy School District on Wednesday night said it had learned about a Snapchat message "where a student in Rochester speculated about a rumored threat to a school in Rochester or Troy. A similar message is being circulated throughout Oakland County replacing 'Troy' with the name of another district," spokeswoman Kerry Birmingham said in an emailed statement.

Memorial items are shown on the sign of Oxford High School in Oxford on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. Ethan Crumbley, a 15-year-old sophomore, is accused of opening fire at the school, killing four students and wounding seven others, including a teacher.

"Law enforcement has investigated this situation and determined that there is no validity to the rumor. However, additional rumors of threats have begun circulating, causing fear and anxiety for parents, students and staff."

The district has opted to cancel classes as well as all programs and activities "to exercise an abundance of caution," Birmingham wrote. 

"We understand the very real pressure and fear that our students are feeling and know that our parents and staff are equally concerned. We are very thankful to the students who brought this to our attention. That was absolutely the right thing to do so that we could work with authorities to investigate and take appropriate action."

At the end of the school day Wednesday, Holly Area Schools "received multiple reports of a potential shooting threat against Holly Area schools that had been posted on social media," sparking an investigation with the Holly Police Department, officials said in a statement.

Through interviews with students who shared the posts, investigators found "no source for the original threat, but instead several second and third-hand reports from individuals sharing what they heard others say," according to the release. 

While there was no credible threats, classes are canceled Thursday and Friday "given the extraordinary circumstances."

Late Wednesday, Gerald Hill, superintendent of the West Bloomfield School District, informed families that the district's schools would be closed, including for all activities, both Thursday and Friday due to threats. 

Online students were to proceed with their classes.

Bloomfield Hills Schools also cited online posts for its closures Thursday.

"The safety and security of our students is our top priority," Superintendent Pat Watson said. "We are in constant contact with Bloomfield Township Police who take every report or rumor seriously. We will follow up with you tomorrow with any updated information."

And Oakland County's Huron Valley Schools canceled Thursday classes due to "unspecified threats."

While many districts raises awareness of threats, not every school decided to close. Berkley School District superintendent Scott Francis said in a letter to parents that the district believes the threats are not credible and it would not close.

"Out of an abundance of caution we will ask our public safety officers to increase their patrols in and around our buildings for the rest of this week," he wrote. He also urged students and parents to share any concerns on the state's OK2SAY tip line.

Detroit Country Day School also said it would take extra security steps but remain open.

Rochester Community Schools was among the districts that planned to close its campuses for instruction, pre-K, Early On, Early Childhood Special Education, the Adult Transition Program and Services and evening activities Thursday, officials announced. The RCS Caring Steps Children’s Center will remain open.

"Nothing is more important than the well-being of our school community, and we are committed to doing all we can to keep students and staff safe," the district said.

"There have been rumors circulating on social media indicating that other high schools may be at risk of experiencing a tragedy similar to the one that occurred recently at Oxford High School. At Rochester Community Schools, we take all threats very seriously. All rumors continue to be thoroughly investigated by our local law enforcement. Although there appear to be no credible threats at this time, we are pausing in-person and virtual learning for the day out of an abundance of caution."

Walled Lake Consolidated School District  said it was closed Thursday "out of an abundance of caution," said Kenneth Gutman, superintendent. Today, it added it also would be closed Friday and that activities at the school were canceled through the weekend.

Warren Consolidated Schools announced on Facebook it would be closed Thursday along with extracurricular activities but did not explain why.

Oakland Schools Technical Campuses also announced closing Thursday after Oakland Technical Early College was specifically mentioned in a threat and "given the level of stress and angst in our community."

Earlier Wednesday, Superintendent Robert Livernois said in a statement: "I encourage all of us to reinforce in our children that if they SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING to a trusted adult.  Together, we are safer when we share information."

News of the closures came hours after 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley was charged in connection with Tuesday's incident and the Oakland County intermediate school district reported media posts alleging a copycat shooting planned for other schools. 

An unsubstantiated threat also closed Mott High School in the Waterford School District on Wednesday, Superintendent Scott Lindberg said in a video posted on Facebook.

The district is "closely monitoring all communications and social media," he said.

"We were able to safely and effectively dismiss our students while we completed our investigation. Now the threat was ultimately determined to be not credible. But this was an example of how the safety protocols and procedures we have in place are indeed effective."

Mercy High School in Farmington Hills said Thursday morning it was closing in unity with other Oakland County schools and "out of respect for the sorrow our students and staff are feeling."

Earlier Wednesday, Michigan State Police Lt. Col. Chris Kelenske, who chairs the Michigan School Safety Commission, said administrators across the state were sent planning documents and informational resources to help them evaluate potential threats and implement preventative measures to mitigate threats.