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Students facing discipline over false active shooter report, Central Dauphin superintendent says

The students believed to be involved in a false report of an active shooter at Central Dauphin High School have been interviewed and are facing discipline, district Superintendent Carol Johnson said Thursday afternoon.

The bogus information, which circulated through social media, caused chaos at the school and had parents and state police rushing to the scene Thursday morning.

Johnson released the following message to district parents around 4 p.m.:

“Here is an update on the situation involving the racist social media post by some students at Central Dauphin High School on Tuesday night. The administrative staff of the high school interviewed all of the students who were allegedly involved in the offensive post.

Due to the requirements of the law, we are not permitted to comment on the consequences that have been imposed. We can say that the disciplinary actions taken are consistent with the Code of Student Conduct of the Central Dauphin School District. It is important to note that, regardless of the type of misconduct at issue, every student has rights to due process and to privacy. This is why incidents must be investigated thoroughly before imposing sanctions.

While those who post to and read social media sites following school incidents often demand an immediate response and insist on knowing the exact outcomes of investigations and subsequent consequences, fulfilling those demands would be inappropriate and a violation of a student’s rights.

This often causes public outrage, but it is the District’s primary duty to ensure that every student is afforded his or her rights when he or she becomes involved in a situation that may result in disciplinary action. This ensures that all students will be treated fairly when Code of Conduct violations occur.

I cannot over-emphasize the deep disappointment and disgust that we have felt as we viewed this post and went through the past 40 hours. This caused a major disruption in the educational environment of Central Dauphin High School, the magnitude of which has not been experienced in recent memory.

For all of the negativity generated, however, this situation has presented us with an opportunity to uncover some long-standing issues that have apparently existed just below the surface for a very long time. We have absolutely no intention of burying what we have discovered.

Rather, we intend to address these issues of intolerance immediately and to set a path going forward that will lead to an environment in which all students can feel safe and respected. First and foremost, our students will be encouraged to be vigilant in our classrooms, hallways, and outside of school, to recognize disrespect and intolerance, and to report such behavior immediately.

Secondly, our students will be given the opportunity, with the help of resources and providers from local non-profit organizations, to develop and practice empathy, respect, and tolerance for all of their peers at school and for the people with whom they come in contact outside the school setting.

The area of immediate need is at Central Dauphin High School. However, we will work with these same providers to ensure that all students and staff from the Central Dauphin School District receive similar support as soon as a practical plan can be developed and implemented. Thirdly, while we have instructed all of our students on best practices on the use of the internet and on social media sites, as required by district policy, we will enhance that training to ensure a deeper understanding of how panic and fear can be prevented by posting and reading responsibly.

The incident that occurred was made many times worse by the rampant unfounded rumors of subsequent violence, up to and including a false call to 911 that an active shooter incident was in progress at the high school today. This was completely false but it was fueled by false statements and blind faith that those statements had to be true because they were posted online.

As a result, police were dispatched to the high school mid-morning, for absolutely no reason. Yet, they had no choice but to respond as if it were a credible call. There are some adults who must also accept some responsibility for the proliferation of these rumors of threats. It is important to know that we investigate every threat to determine whether or not it is credible. A statement on social media of, “I heard there will be a shooting…” is not a credible threat.

Yet, despite these irresponsible posts, which also contribute to instability in the school environment, some students and some adults continued to re-post, making the situation far worse than it had to be. In response, we made certain that we had extra security on school property to allay the fears of the students in the building.

We did not cancel school because there was no basis for doing so. We were monitoring the internet and working on this issue throughout the night. Absolutely nothing we saw warranted us contacting parents to notify them of a credible threat.

This is why families and staff did not receive a communication from us overnight. In addition, the communication received by parents of Central Dauphin High School students this morning from the principal, Mr. Kenneth Miller, was designed to outline what had taken place and to update you to the extent possible at that moment. This communication you are receiving from me is intended to give one final update of the incident and our actions to be taken in the future. While I understand that our society thrives on the instant gratification provided by the internet and social media, so much of what was written was false or misleading.

Our District communications will come to you as soon as there is credible and factual information upon which to base parental actions and decisions. The school day was proceeding normally until people began acting upon misinformation. At that point, many students missed class time for no valid reason.

I respectfully request that you wait until we contact you with valid, actionable information in future situations before removing students from a situation that is safe and secure. You may notice more security staff at CDHS throughout the day tomorrow in order to restore the sense of safety and security that we expect for our students and staff.

We thank the staff of Central Dauphin High School as well as the PA State Police for their continued assistance as we move forward. Finally, at this point, we should all reflect on our response to this incident and see ways in which we can improve. It is critical for parents and school staff alike to work with our students to ensure that the school they attend is one in which all students are part of the solution in reporting disrespectful behavior toward their peers.

We must all be part of the change that must take place in order to create an atmosphere in which diversity on every level is cherished. I ask that you join us to help guide our children through these challenging days and times in facilitating a return to civility, decency and respect in the halls and classrooms of every building in the Central Dauphin School District.

Thank you.”

Sincerely, Dr. Carol Johnson, Superintendent Central Dauphin School District

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