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January 18, 2013

Two area schools react to threats

By Mark Boshnack
The Daily Star

---- — While neither of two recent incidents at local schools involved any violence, school administrators said everyone is much more alert to the possibilities following the shootings at Newtown, Conn.

The most recent incident occurred Wednesday, when Cooperstown Central School was put on lockdown. At about 10 a.m. the elementary school received secondhand information of a non-specific threat to the school, Superintendent C.J. Hebert said. Following an investigation by the Cooperstown Police Department, with the help of deputies and other area police agencies, the information was determined to be unfounded, according to a police media release. Chief Michael Covert said he was limited about what he could say because the incident is still under investigation. Hebert also could not say more for the same reason.

When the information was received both buildings were placed on lockdown procedures, according to the school’s safety plan, Hebert said. Outdoor activities were halted, the buildings were locked and the entries restricted.

“The entire country has a heightened sense of awareness” since the Sandy Hook shootings, Hebert said. However, before that happened, Cooperstown, like other state schools, developed their safety plans for these types of incidents.

When Wednesday including happened, the school, using its automated calling system, notified parents and guardians of the situation as soon as there was information that was specific and pertinent, with an eye to maintaining order while the process ran its course, he said.

As in any case, the school could not provide information on the name of a student, except when safety required it.

“We felt good” about the response of staff and faculty, and all police agencies, he said. “It remained a safe campus throughout the day.” The safety plan was already reviewed and no changes appear to be needed.

In a letter going home to parents, Friday, Hebert outlines what happened and addresses a concern that followed the incident. The first call that went out on Power Announcement was mistakenly transmitted with a blank message. When the mistake was recognized, a second message was sent. The police investigated the individual who supposedly made the threat and when it was determined to be unfounded, a follow-up message was sent.

In the letter, Hebert asks anyone who did not receive both calls to call network systems coordinator Mark LaValley at 547-1056. The system will be tested 6 p.m. Monday. Any changes should be made before that.

A parent of an eighth-grader, who asked only to use her first name, Anna, said she got a call at 2:30 p.m. making her aware of the situation. Another call came at 5 p.m. to say it was resolved.

“Until then we had no knowledge that there was a situation,” Anna said. “I understand they don’t want to scare people who might rush down to the school. But we should have that option. There should have been better communication,” she said. “The situation at Newtown has brought it home that children are not necessarily safe when they go to schools. We’re not sure they are going to come home.”

At Sidney Central School, a note was sent Friday to parents saying that during a high school lunch period that day, seven .22 caliber shells were found on the cafeteria floor and given to a school administer.

“There was no reason to believe there was anything malicious about it,” Superintendent Bill Christensen said. Older students found the shells and it was quickly determined who had sat in that area previously and they were interviewed. Officials believe someone may have forgotten to take the shells out of a backpack that was brought to school, and they fell on the floor, he said. There was no weapon involved. The shells shouldn’t have been there and the principal took appropriate action, Christensen said. There were consequences but because they involved students, he could not say what that entailed.

“Everyone is much more diligent following Newtown,” he said. The Sidney plan was reviewed following the Connecticut incident, and it was found to be thorough, he said. If there was any reason to believe there was a threat, “we would have responded.”

Since Newtown, a lot more potential problems are getting reported and there are more people in the hallways.

“We are looking for ways to improve that, short of no backpacks and metal detectors,” he said. “You have to keep it in perspective.”