A day for remembrance, instead filled with fear

Many Mac students stayed home today because they weren't sure that threats to the school were not credible


Dave Winter

There was an increased police presence on campus today in response to the threats made online yesterday.

Stella Shenkman, staff reporter

On this day, I should be remembering the brave survivors of the tragic events that took place in Parkland, Fla., at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School; instead, I will spend today worrying for my friends and teachers who decided to attend school despite the social media accounts of a second terrorist threat directed at the school.

Social media platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram have provided a platform for students to share new information quickly, exponentially even.”

On Wednesday morning (Feb. 13, the day before the anniversary of the Parkland shooting), multiple written and verbal terroristic threats were directed at McCallum High School. The student who allegedly sent the threats was found and arrested. News of the threats and the identify of the student who made them was posted online by multiple local news outlets. Just when it seemed like the incident had run its course, students began receiving and sharing news of additional threats that were allegedly been made by a friend of the student who was arrested. Social media platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram have provided a platform for students to share new information quickly, exponentially even. Unfortunately, because anyone can say just about anything on social media, I have trouble believing these posts. The fear radiating from these students posting these warnings, however, is reason enough for me to not attend school today, the one-year anniversary of the heartbreaking Parkland shooting that resulted in the death of 17 individuals, many of them high school students just like myself, looking forward to a future of college, careers and family.

Issued by principal Mike Garrison to all McCallum parents and faculty

On Wednesday night, principal Mike Garrison issued a letter about the threats, which struck me as underwhelming. The message was emailed to all McCallum parents and faculty, guaranteeing safety at McCallum for the following day.

“At this time, there is no danger to our campus, staff, or students.” Garrison wrote. “Out of an abundance of caution, however, we will have additional AISD police officers on campus tomorrow morning.”

I wish that the letter explained better how the authorities and the administration determined that the threats were not credible. After personally speaking with an Austin Police Department officer that evening, I was thoroughly confused about the credibility of the threats. Garrison’s letter gave the impression that the threats weren’t at all credible, and that they were only providing extra AISD police officers at McCallum on Feb. 14 out of an “abundance of caution.” However, when I spoke with the APD officer he said that police officers were still following all potential leads that they had for the case.

Today, I did not attend school and encouraged others to not as well. I define an educational environment as a safe place where I can comfortably learn.  My school has promised extra police security on campus there to protect me and my peers from multiple active shooter threats. While extra police enforcement may logically make me safer, emotionally, that still a very stressful environment to be in, especially with the student community feeling very left-in-the-dark about the status of the case. I would have felt a lot safe if I knew more about why the district had concluded that the threats weren’t enough to cancel school.

How are we to ever to know for sure if a student is making a dishonest threat online as a hoax or making a genuine threat to our safety? I honestly don’t know the answer.”

I understand that AISD does not want to put fear in students by publicly saying anything alarming about the threats which could make the students avoid coming to school out of fear. I understand that AISD cannot afford to cancel school every time a threat like this is made on social media, but I wonder, if it would have been worth the cost of one school’s attendance for one day worth the risk of any student or teacher’s life, regardless of the credibility?

I decided that for me it was not. I decided to receive an unexcused absence because I refuse to attend a school day where I fear my own life because I can’t learn under those circumstances, making the risk to high to pay.

This event has ramifications, however, beyond today. Today makes me wonder how we should determine whether or not to take a threat seriously enough to stay home from school in the future. How are we to ever to know for sure if a student is making a dishonest threat online as a hoax or making a genuine threat to our safety? I honestly don’t know the answer.

On this anniversary I think back to the 14 students and three teachers who died at the hands of an armed student. I think back to the brave students who banded together, unafraid to confront those in power who seemed determined to keep them silent victims. I particularly think back to the demonstrations we, the students of McCallum, held in solidarity and protest, marching to the state Capitol to demand that an event like that never happen again. And yet, it has. Shortly after Parkland, there was Santa Fe High School, hours away from us. And today, one year later, it seems like nothing has changed.

Education is such an important factor when dealing with empty online threats. Students must be educated about how even a threat with no backing can be so harmful to their communities. If we are faced with empty threats every day, then how are we to ever identify devastating events before they happen. We have not made it any harder for those same teenagers to gain access to devastating weaponry.

“Never again,” was the rallying cry of the movement. But the fact that we all are now contemplating how our reality would change in the event of a school shooting, it’s an all-too-depressing reminder that yes, it absolutely could happen again.