UPDATED: Social media spats, rumors lead to Alpena High closure
ALPENA — Social media disputes and rumor mills eventually led to the closure of Alpena High School today “out of an abundance of caution” over a possible threat, Alpena Public Schools officials said in a written statement.
An investigation with the Alpena Police Department today ultimately determined the school faced no threat and students will return on Monday, the district said in the statement released around 5 p.m. today.
“Support for students and staff will be in place to appropriately respond to and process these events,” the statement says. “We are confident that our students and community will come together and move forward in a positive and productive manner following these events.”
The district had received no information on threats to other APS schools, which remained open today, although with additional police presence requested by the district.
The perceived threat against Alpena High “was due to the spreading of misinformation based upon assumptions by an individual no longer living in the Alpena community,” the district said. “This individual did have social media connections to many in our school community, resulting in a swift and broad spread of a perceived threat.”
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The district did not specify the nature of the supposed threat. It said in its statement that Alpena police notified the district of the threat late Thursday evening. The district announced Alpena High’s closure in a Facebook post at about 5 a.m. today.
Alpena Police Chief Joel Jett declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but urged the public to not put too much stock into social media rumors.
“No surprise, social media is right in the middle of all this stuff,” the chief said. “There’s just a lot of false stuff out there floating around.”
The perceived threat and school closure followed a tense day at the school on Thursday, with three unrelated incidents feeding into the rumor mill.
First, Alpena police and an ambulance responded to “an unknown medical issue” on an APS bus, the district said in its statement.
Second, Alpena High’s police liaison officer intervened with a student in the hallway “disregarding directives by school personnel (and) causing a disturbance to the school environment.” Despite rumors police had to use a stun gun on the student, “only minor interventions took place,” the district said in its statement.
Third, “a small group of students wearing flags and memorabilia as a show of support for a fellow student who was involved in a dispute on social media … caused a substantial disruption to the school day by creating a climate of intimidation,” the district said in the statement.
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The district did not specify what types of flags or memorabilia the students wore.
The district said it spoke with several students throughout the day and some students “were held accountable for their choices per the Alpena High School Code of Conduct.” The district did not specify how officials held those students accountable.
The in-school disputes then continued on social media after school Thursday, which ultimately led to the rumor mill that led to the perceived threat that closed the school.
This week’s incident among students adds to weeks of tense exchanges among parents and other residents.
For months, parents and others have clogged APS school board meetings, pressing the district from both ends of the ideological spectrum on everything from facemask mandates to the teaching of climate change and critical race theory. Trustees have no control over many of the issues parents have pressed, with policies set either by the state or court precedent.
At an Aug. 2 APS forum to discuss those issues, two parents got into a brief scuffle that led to police intervention.
Parents have continued to blast one another on social media outside of the school board meetings, and some residents have said they feel unsafe and threatened by those on the other side of the political aisle.
Alpena High has about 1,100 students.
Today would have been the eighth day of the 2021-22 school year for those students.
Over the last five school years, school districts statewide reported a combined 706 student expulsions over threats or possession of bombs, firearms, or other weapons, according to Michigan Department of Education data.
Last school year, despite most schools teaching online for most of the year because of the coronavirus pandemic, 40 Michigan school districts reported a combined 48 expulsions related to weapons.
Of the 706 expulsions over the last five years, only four happened in Northeast Michigan:
* In the 2018-19 school year, APS reported expelling two Alternative Choices for Educational Success Academy students over firearms-related offenses.
* In the 2016-17 school year, APS reported expelling an ACES student and a Thunder Bay Junior High School student over weapons-related offenses.
The state expulsion data does not include any incidents for which the school does not identify and punish a perpetrator.
In a 2015 study, National School Safety and Security Services, a nonprofit that tracks school safety issues, found that more than 70% of school threats involved threats of shootings and/or bombs. About a third of the threatened schools evacuated and 10% closed, “oftentimes unnecessarily doing so,” the nonprofit said.