Princeton School District officials and local law enforcement responded to two separate incidents that required action on Monday. Neither resulted in any harm to students or staff.
The first incident involved a family dispute near Princeton Primary and Intermediate Schools that led to school officials keeping students from going outdoors for recess.
The second involved the threat of a school shooting at Princeton High School.
Regarding the shooting threat, Superintendent Ben Barton said that administrators were notified at about 12:30 p.m. of a Facebook post involving a potential school shooting.
Within minutes, Barton said, the source of the post was located and, with the help of the Princeton Police Department, it was determined there was no threat.
“We put a statement out indicating we were made aware of the situation and we were able to immediately pinpoint who had placed the threat,” Barton said. “We were able to question that person immediately and determine why that person placed it on Facebook, then follow up with other information provided to us and talked to other students that may have had information on it. We were able to get all the facts with 100% certainty and determined there was no threat.”
Barton said the Facebook post was an unfortunate and very poor decision that someone made.
“We’ve got 3,500 students and everybody in the world has made mistakes,” he said. “Some poor decisions are worse than others. I’m very pleased with the fact that our response to things like this are immediate and swift and we were able to determine that everyone was safe, then deal with the poor decision after the fact. You don’t mention anything related to a school and shooting. There’s zero tolerance related to that, and we take it extremely serious.”
A number of parents expressed frustration that they learned of the incident via Facebook (including the district’s official page) instead of through the school’s “Skylert” system, which is designed to instantly send out more than 12,000 emails, text messages and phone calls to parents when situations arise.
When parents receive these notifications can depend on anything from how their email settings are entered or the speed of the server delivering the information.
The brunt of the issue appeared to be the emails getting caught by Spam filters, Barton said.
“We’re very pleased we have a system that we can communicate with people within seconds when things happen,” Barton said. “This email was informational in nature because there was no threat. Sometimes it takes a half hour to get to someone, sometimes it gets there immediately. We’ve had differences in that, and we’ve had our technical teams reviewing that.”
Barton said the district receives a printout of who didn’t receive the email, and staff will be reaching out to them to provide instructions on how to change their settings.
“The reason why we put it on Facebook is for all the people that may have missed it in their emails,” Barton said. “We try and use multiple modes of communication. We would hope that the Skylert system would be sufficient and that everyone would get those, that they’d check their email and that it wouldn’t go to Spam.
“We also put it out there on Facebook because we know a lot of people in this community utilize it, and if they were to have missed the email, it gives us more confidence that everyone is getting the message. We did run into some glitches, but I’ve received dozens of communications from parents who received the email and they were very appreciative.”
Barton stressed the importance of the public taking the information from official sources – not Facebook posts – when it comes to these situations.
“When we have any kind of situation in our school district, our No. 1 priority is the safety of our students and our staff,” Barton said. “The problem is we will likely never be able to defeat the one person who decides to go on Facebook and say ‘What’s going on at the school? I heard this.’ While we’re handling the situation at hand, in the back of my head I’m thinking how to get the communication out as quickly as possible so that inaccurate information doesn’t get out there.
“We’re really trying to teach that we really need to rely on official communication to get our information vs. the random Facebook post. What we deem as official would be our school district, our law enforcement and the Union-Times. We’re telling people the Union-Times is bound by ethical standards of journalism that you can trust and we can trust. We’re trying to get people to refrain from being the first one to tell a story. It stirs up chaos and all kinds of different things.”
Students kept indoors
The morning incident near Princeton Primary and Intermediate Schools led to officials deciding to keep students and staff indoors during recess.
Based on the information provided, Barton and law enforcement did not see the need to put the school in lockdown.
“There was no direct danger to our schools. If there was, we would’ve went into a lockdown,” Barton said. As a precautionary measure, we decided to keep people inside just in case there was anything that could arise. We wanted to be extra-cautious. We deal with this more often than people think. We have a really good working relationship with law enforcement and we’re in this together to keep people safe.”