Police presence, student walkouts forthcoming

By Shaun Moriarty
Citizen Chronicle Writer
shaun@thecitizenchronicle.com

On Monday morning, public school students around the Commonwealth will be returning to classes from their February break. For many, the atmosphere will likely be different from when they last left school.

In the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, most students across the area went to school for two days before the regularly scheduled annual February vacation week. The fallout from the shooting has not faded but has continued to remain ever-present on television and print media, in social media posts, and around coffee shop counters.

At many schools, local police presence is expected to be increased as classes resume.

On Thursday afternoon, the Southbridge Police Department took to their Facebook page in an attempt to calm the nerves of local parents after an ambiguous threat went viral. Police explained a post attributed to a “Ray Andres” had been making the rounds on social media platforms. Police said the Andres post does not specify a town or specific school other than the acronym “SHS,” and the post claims its author “intends to bring a gun to school and do harm.” Some local parents feared the “SHS” referenced in the post stood for Southbridge High School.

“It appears the identically written post has originated in another state and has been circulating throughout several states throughout the country,” police wrote. “There is no indication the post was specifically referring to schools in Southbridge.”

All the same, Southbridge Police took the post serious and conducted its own investigation.

“We have investigated the post and there does not appear to be any credible threat to Southbridge Middle High School. The Southbridge School Department and the Southbridge Police Department continue to work together to ensure the safety of our children and we take each threat to safety and security seriously and investigate thoroughly,” read the police post. “Please continue to encourage your children to report these types of incidents. We will have an increased presence at the schools when students return back from school vacation to ensure that our children feel safe.”

Also, on Thursday afternoon, Oxford High School Principal Dr. Kimberlee Henry took to her Twitter account to alert community members that vigilance is a necessity, as evident by what she described as “a report of a potential safety concern.” Dr. Henry said the report was investigated in conjunction with the local police department and “it was found that there was no imminent threat.” She added students, staff and parents should be sure to “report any concerns” going forward, pledging to address them.

This past Sunday, in response to a national call for students and teachers to stage walk-outs as a form of protest of mass school shootings, a number of students and groups have begun making plans to do so. Among them is a group of Northbridge High School students who have created a Twitter account called @NHSWalkout2018. “Northbridge Walkout” tweeted on Sunday, Feb. 18, that it is “a group of students who want to stage a walk out” at the high school on March 14 “in direct protest to the shooting in Florida. It’s time for a change.”

Northbridge Walkout explained that the protest would last 17 minutes, a symbolic number for “one minute for each of the lives lost in Florida.” Students have been encouraged to wear orange to show support and solidarity in an effort to “show law makers that we need #gunreform in America. #StudentsDemandAction”

The students behind Northbridge Walkout tweeted that they have “the support of NHS teachers and administration” and seek to make the protest “a schoolwide event.”

The @NHSWalkout2018 account has remained active since with original posts and retweets.

In the immediate aftermath of the Parkland shooting, many districts and officials reached out to communicate with and assure parents, students, and staff. In some cases, it was the sharing of links for tips on talking with children about the incident, some expressed sympathies, and some offered their own advice.

The morning after the shootings, Dudley-Charlton Regional School District Superintendent Gregg Desto took to Twitter to urge compassion and respect. He called on students to “Take care of one another today. If someone needs help, help them. If you need help, talk to someone. At the very least, let’s all be respectful to one another.”

Northbridge Public Schools took to its social media accounts to stress “Schools should be a haven of safety, security, and comfort for students, staff, and families.” The district assured an additional police presence would be employed at schools throughout the district for the final two days heading into the February break. There has been no public statement since to confirm whether the extra police presence would continue after the week off.

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