Update from Nantucket Superintendent of Schools

"Social media firestorm" but no credible threat found...
Nantucket High School (Nantucket Public Schools)

Message posted by Nantucket's Superintendent of Schools, updating the community on today's school closures...

 

To the Nantucket School Community,

I know you all are eagerly awaiting some word on the recent school closure, specifically what prompted it and what is to happen next.  As events unfolded last night, the school department and police department became aware that social media sites were abuzz about a threat to our students.  Our two departments came together to try to determine the origin of that perceived threat.  As we investigated, the issue quickly became a “social media firestorm” that we struggled to put out.  Needless to say, the first necessary step was to find out if there was, indeed, a specific threat.  The detectives working this “case” interviewed a number of sources and determined there was nothing new or definite, but rather a chain of misinformation or information taken out of context and shared down the line.  For those of us from a different era, this is much like the old “Telephone Game” where one person whispers to the next in line and after a dozen people have shared, the end result is quite different than the original. 

Due to the extent of the firestorm and the questions that the school and police had, I determined that we needed to call school off for today.  This, I knew, would allow us to investigate the matter further and meet to discuss all of our findings.  This happened this morning and Chief Pittman and other law enforcement officials notified us that they were “absolutely convinced” there was no threat to the safety of our students and staff.    

What are the “takeaways” from this event?

As I have had time to reflect on what was an evolving and most challenging storm, I believe that my actions were prudent at the time.  I now agree that there is no threat to our students and that we must get on with our mission of educating our students.  I know that my decision will raise further questions, some that I can answer but perhaps others that I cannot.  I do see a silver lining in this situation, and that is that Nantucketers care deeply about their children and won’t remain silent if they believe that any harm can come to them.  That is important, because events in other communities across our nation have shown that no one is exempt from these concerns, even one 30 miles out to sea.

My second reflection is that we as individuals that make up a community must be very careful in how we use social media.  It can be a powerful force for good, but we must carefully scrutinize and assess information before we pass it on.  Had that happened in this case, I believe that it would have been determined that what was shared was rumor and/or speculation rather than facts.  Finally, while I am happy that information has been shared with school officials, it is important that our community should share information immediately and directly with the police so they can act quickly and not have to search for a source. 

How are we moving forward?

1.       Athletic teams will be allowed to practice today.

2.       Academic Awards night will go forward as scheduled for tonight.

3.       All schools will reopen tomorrow morning.

We are back to a “normal” schedule, but we realize that things will not return immediately to normal.  Our administrators will meet and discuss events with their faculty.  The faculty will discuss events with our students at a level appropriate to their age and grade level.  We will be even more vigilant than customary, as there is a “new normal.”  There will be a greater presence of administration and law enforcement, not because of a threat, but because of the heightened sensitivity of our parents, children and community.  Please know that NOTHING is more important to us than the safety of our children and I would not ask you to have them return if I felt it was risky. 

What can you do?

First, talk to your child(ren) and try to reassure them that the school is filled with people who care for them and will look out for their welfare.  We have a wonderful staff, and they will rise to the occasion.

If you have follow up questions for me, please do not hesitate to contact me or stop me in the halls with your questions.  I will answer them to the best of my ability.  Thank you, once again, for your understanding in this matter.

Sincerely, 

W. Michael Cozort
Superintendent of Schools
Nantucket Public Schools       


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