By Kassie Parisi
CLIFTON PARK — Some parents of students in the Shenendehowa Central School District decided to keep their children home for the day Monday or pick them up early because of a written threat found at the high school last week.
On Friday, a student found a misspelled threat on the wall of a bathroom stall in High School East that read: “Shoot up shcool 3/19/18 2:35.” Shen sent an email to parents notifying them of the incident later that afternoon.
Shen confirmed on Monday that the number of absent students was higher than normal.
“The high school is seeing a higher number of absences, more than likely due to our notification [about the threat],” said district spokeswoman Kelly DeFeciani on Monday. She added that, while the district doesn’t keep an average for day-to-day absences, the numbers fluctuate and Monday was definitely an outlier.
“This is higher than typical,” she said.
The high school said 870 students missed three or more class periods Monday. There were 511 students who missed a full day at High School East, 161 who missed a full day at High School West and 190 who missed a half day between the two high schools, according to numbers from the district.
The Shenendehowa School district has approximately 9,850 enrolled students among eight elementary schools, three middle schools and a high school, according to the district website.
But while some parents opted to keep their kids home, others waited anxiously for the end of the school day.
Cheri Quail’s son is a sophomore at the high school, and she let him go to school because he wanted to, she said. But, as the final period of the day approached, Quail said her son contacted her to be picked up early.
“I’m going to listen to him,” Quail said. “He went this morning. I was proud of him. His ninth-period class was in a back hall next to the back entrance. His gut told him to be picked up, so I picked him up.”
Quail described the scene outside the school as she waited for her son: A line of cars, waiting to pick students up early, wound all the way off campus to the main road.
She acknowledged she didn’t know whether every parent was there to pick their students up because of the threat, but she said other parents she talked with while waiting said it was rarely so busy at the time they were waiting — around 2 p.m.
Quail added that, while she recognized the school was probably as safe as it could be, ignoring her son’s concerns was not an option.
“I’m sure the school is the safest it’s ever been this afternoon, but I wasn’t going to dismiss his feelings,” she said.
Anthony Morelli, who has one student at the high school and one at Acadia Middle School, said he was slightly concerned when he sent his kids to school Monday morning and told both of them to let him know if they wanted to be picked up early.
“I actually instructed my kids to let me know if they felt uncomfortable once they got there … they both reached out at different times, and I picked them up at different times,” he said. Ultimately, he picked one up at 9:30 a.m. and the other at 11:30 a.m.
The concern extended beyond the high school. Kristina Smith, whose children go to Skano Elementary School, said that after dropping them off in the morning she was worried all day.
“My kids are at school today, but I am sick to my stomach,” she said. Seeing police at the school in the morning was not comforting for her and made her doubt whether leaving her children was the right thing to do, she added.
Smith, who teaches in Albany, said the frequency of recent shooting threats is alarming, and the recent school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida makes the threats even scarier.
She admitted she can’t protect her children from everything but added that the idea of making the wrong decision regarding their safety is daunting.
“The reality is it could happen any day, any place, and life isn’t going to stop, so as a mom and a teacher, I have to hope and believe that it will be OK,” she said.
In its Friday email, Shen officials said they would take precautions, including a greater police presence — the district said there were 25 police officers in its various school buildings — on Monday. Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo confirmed at least three police cars were stationed at the campus Monday morning.
“There were no issues,” Zurlo said later Monday.
The Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department is leading the investigation of the threat, with assistance from the state police. Zurlo said on Monday there are two investigators working the case, and that his office was working with district officials to conduct interviews at the school.
He would not comment on whether there were suspects or whether the threat was credible.
“We have not made that determination yet,” he said.
Friday’s threat was the first in a string of incidents at Shen over the past week.
According to an email sent to parents by the district on Monday, earlier Monday morning, the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office informed middle school officials that a student had re-posted an Instagram message that some interpreted as a threat to the middle school complex, which includes Acadia Middle School, Gowana Middle School, and Koda Middle School.
School administrators and the sheriff’s office met with the student and the student’s parents and determined there was no threat. Then, at 11 a.m., a student reported seeing a written threat — similar to the threat found Wednesday in the high school — written on a wall in a bathroom stall.
On Tuesday, the sheriff’s office announced that it had arrested a 13-year-old male who had allegedly made the online post.
“Young people who believe these threats to be a fun prank need to understand that it has serious repercussions in terms of school suspension and criminal charges. We encourage people to talk to their children and explain that these threats seriously impact our ability to educate all of our students… they create anxiety for parents, students and staff and an atmosphere of fear that is not conducive to learning.
Shen is the latest area school district to respond to threats. There have been similar situations at Scotia-Glenville High School, Gloversville High School , the Schenectady City School District, and the Mohonasen Central School District.
Scotia-Glenville High School announced that, after a Glenville police investigation into a social media-based threat that circulated among students and parents on Wednesday, it was determined that the post originated in a Pennsylvania school district, 300 miles away.