'This was never a threat,' superintendent says
By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
Grand Island Central School District officials tried to assure residents on Monday that reports of a student threat to harm the school were greatly exaggerated.
Parents packed the Professional Development Room at Grand Island High School for Monday's regular Board of Education meeting after Monday's report of a threat from a student. The board departed from its agenda to allow Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Graham address the questions of parents.
"This was a tough day for everybody," Graham said in prefacing his remarks. Grand Island Central School District's messenger system sent a text Monday to parents that said: "This morning, we received several reports that a Grand Island High School student made a threat to harm the school. School officials became aware of the threat when it was reported by various parents and students. Law enforcement was notified immediately and they are currently on campus working with the building principal to conduct a thorough investigation. While the threat is not considered to be credible, school administrators will continue working with law enforcement. The district would like to assure parents that our students at the high school - middle school campus remain safe."
Later in the day, a press release from the Erie County Sheriff's Office said, "Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard reports his office, working with Grand Island School District officials, found no credible threat toward students at Grand Island High School.
"School officials contacted the sheriff's office about reports of rumors regarding school safety from one or multiple students. The sheriff's office spoke with numerous students and school staff, yet found no credible threat. Deputies and detectives were not able to identify the origin of the rumor nor did they speak to anyone who heard the rumor directly from the individual or individuals making the original statement."
Graham told the audience at the board meeting that Monday, the district "received a phone call a little after 11 o'clock from a student who was home and not in school and she was concerned about safety in our school system. She did not have any specific information. She did not witness or see anything herself, but she shared her concern."
Graham said GIHS building administrators had "some concerns that started to develop late Friday afternoon." He said a teacher in the school had addressed the "national student walkout event Wednesday" planned in response to a Florida school shooting that killed 17 people. "We're very concerned that a national event asking students to walk out of school March 14," Graham said, noting the district had sent a letter home to parents to address the topic.
"Last Friday, one of our teachers was talking about that in her classroom, and some of the students made an inappropriate remark about another student that was not verified," Graham said.
"The remark may have been something like, 'If there was going to be a terrible event, it would be this particular person.'"
Graham pointed out, "There isn't a single student, faculty or staff member that have ever heard a student make a threat like that. Ever. And that's as of this moment."
"The student who we were worried about based on this information was immediately brought down to the high school principal office and questioned by our high school principal and staff," Graham said. In parallel to that, the district interviewed nearly 30 students on the matter, "who gave us nothing."
Graham said, "So today, my hunch is that when administrators were talking to students early in the morning about the issue that kind of started to bubble up last Friday, we think that those students started talking to other students."
"I think that that information was shared over and over again," Graham said, and the echo chamber effect made the situation bigger and bigger.
"We take these things very seriously," Graham said, pointing out last year, a student was suspended for over a year for making a threat. "Any student who makes a threat that is credible, we act swiftly and we provide harsh consequences."
"We want you to tell us information that keeps our kids safe," Graham said, recommending students and parents use the Viking Tip Line on the www.gicsd.org
website to report such things as threats, harassments, theft, drug use, suicide, vandalism and bullying.