12:00 a.m. phone calls are never fun.
First ring: Foggy, confused. What is that noise? Am I dreaming? Phone lit up.
Second ring: Focus eyes. Screen is too bright. 12:01 a.m. A call from Saginaw Township Community Schools. What? Did I over sleep? No, it says 12:01 a.m. That’s too early. Sudden panic!
Third ring: Leap out of bed, fumble with the phone, accidentally pull the charger out of the wall. Adrenaline is pumping. What is going on?
Hit green accept button just before the fourth ring.
“This is a message from Saginaw Township Community Schools. All STCS schools are closed tomorrow, Monday February 26th, due to a threat circulating on Social Media. This will give the Saginaw Township Police Department and school administration time to investigate. As always, the safety of our students and staff is our first priority.
All Child Care is closed
Staff need not report.”
I had to immediately go to my email to read the text from the phone call. My brain is still a little cloudy and I can’t process what I just heard. I still question if I’m dreaming.
Snow days, cold days, freezing rain days, and foggy days still give me butterflies even as a 39-year old adult. The butterflies are still there at 12:03 a.m. but the feeling is completely different. Sadness, fear, frustration, and anger.
I open the Facebook app on my phone and start scrolling. Parents are getting the calls at the same time. Several posts, similar sentiments:
“This is getting ridiculous.”
“This is out of hand. I don’t even have words for this. Frustrating.”
“School is canceled tomorrow because of a threat on social media. I am grateful that our school takes it seriously, but this is getting crazy.”
I shake my wife and tell her about the message. She sits straight up just as confused. Suddenly my son stumbles into my bedroom. Hair sticking up, Michigan t-shirt and pajama pants, barely awake, but startled by the strange phone call. He heard my wife and I talking about school being canceled. “We don’t have school tomorrow?” he innocently asks. “I checked, we don’t even have any snow.” I can almost feel my heart break just a bit. Deep breath. Swallow the frog clinging to my throat. Quick cough.
“We will talk about it in the morning, buddy. Just go back to sleep.” What do you say to a 9-year old and a 5-year old? How do you explain a gun threat day? How is this even happening? How did we get here?
I wish I could follow my own advice, but that’s not happening as my mind is racing and running through a gauntlet of emotions. After ten minutes of tossing and turning, I head to the living room. I try to distract myself by reading Elly Swartz’s new book, Smart Cookie, but find myself going back to my phone every few pages. School shootings and school security have been on my brain almost nonstop since February 14th. I have read countless blog posts (see Tony’s post and Aliza’s post on this blog), engaged in Facebook/Twitter discussions (some insightful and some completely asinine), listened to ideas from politicians and community members. I have wept for the students at Stoneman Douglas and lost sleep wondering how this can happen again and again in our country. The phone call hits me like a Ronda Rousey punch to the gut. This is happening in our city, our community, our schools.
I don’t want the focus of this post to be on the debate on gun control or mental health. There have been plenty of great articles published on both topics. I do want to focus in on the increasing number of threats that are being made and shared on social media. First, here is how I asked talking to both my sons. For the kindergartener, I simply told him we are taking a day off to make sure everything in the school is safe. He doesn’t need to know anything more than that. It was a bit more complicated for the 4th grader. He has heard bits and pieces from the news about the school shooting in Florida. I told him that someone at the high school threatened to hurt some of the other students at school. The person that made the threat was probably joking, but whenever there is a threat at schools it is taken very seriously and the police investigate it. It happened late at night which means they didn’t have enough time to properly investigate so they canceled school to give the police more time. The person that made the threat is going to be in big trouble with the police, even if it was just a joke. It is never OK to joke about hurting other students. If you ever hear any threats at school, make sure you let a teacher know. I ended by assuring him that school was a very safe place. I imagine the conversation would be different if my sons were middle or high school students.
I appreciate that I work in a district that puts school safety at the top of the priority list. It was undoubtedly the right decision to cancel school. Safety of the students always comes first. This threat, like so many other recent copycat threats, turned out to be uncredible. After an investigation by the police and FBI, it was determined that the message was copied and pasted and had likely been shared all over the country. I have heard similar threats all around the country that turn out to be “jokes” or hoaxes. However, I don’t find anything funny about it. I hope the police charge both the students and the parents to the full extent that the law allows when threats like this are made. We have to send a clear and strong message that this type of “joke” will not be tolerated. It’s offensive to the communities that have gone through real tragedies and increases the anxiety and fear in our students.
As schools, we have to do more to build relationships with students. I know the academic demands are greater than ever, but everything we do starts with a solid foundation of a relationship. We need to check in with students frequently and make sure we have resources to help them when needed. In almost every threat situation, there are signs that a child needed help. We also need to spend time talking to our students about the seriousness of making threats. They need to know these “jokes” are going to be investigated and will result in life-changing consequences.
I want to thank and recognize the students in these schools where threats are happening. They are doing exactly what we are teaching them to do: if you see or hear something unusual, report it to staff or the police. When it comes to school safety, it is better to be safe and report something than let it go. This is something we can fix. As citizens, community members, schools, staff, and students – it is time to say enough. Stop the violence. Stop the threats. Stop the hate. This needs to stop now. America, we are better than this!
As I was finishing this post, my cell phone rang. It was my wife. She said her school was on lockdown because shots were just fired at Central Michigan University. Central Michigan University is just a couple of miles from her school. It turns out 1:00 p.m. phone calls are just as terrifying.