WEST FARGO — A Cheney Middle School student who was not allowed in school Thursday, Nov. 7, after fellow classmates reported overhearing him make shooting threats the day before will also not be in school Friday while police continue to investigate.
"We have been in communication with the West Fargo Police Department and feel confident in the decision to have school tomorrow," District Spokeswoman Heather Leas said in a statement Thursday evening. "Principal (Don) Lennon will be making a school-wide announcement right away in the morning to address the rumors students have been hearing. Our counselors and administrators will be highly visible throughout the building and are prepared to visit with any students that need reassurance or a chance to connect with a trusted adult. "
Leas said the threat investigation began toward the end of the school day on Wednesday, Nov. 6, when a group of students spoke with administrators at Cheney Middle School about school shooting threats they were hearing from a fellow student.
"The child’s parents were contacted and a search of his locker was conducted; nothing was found. The student is not in school today, pending the results of a threat assessment," Leas wrote to parents Thursday morning after school was in session.
In a second statement sent to media Thursday afternoon, Leas said school staff and West Fargo Police were investigating any threat, which includes whether a threat was actually made, and working through the school district's threat assessment process. The process looks at the detail, context and content of the threat; the amount of disruption the threat creates; and the source. Investigators also look at the alleged student's state of mind, their relationship with peers, age, home life, ability to carry out a threat (such as access to weapons); past behavior and if any laws were broken.
Students and staff are required to report potential threats. In the assessment process, investigators will also look at who reported the threat and any potential motives for reporting a threat.
Kathryn Mischke, a parent of a seventh-grader at Cheney Middle School, told WDAY-TV that she did not have any concerns sending her child to school Thursday.
"I did text her during the day to see if she was feeling OK and she said she was and she really didn't seem like anything was out of place at school," Mischke said.
"The results of the investigation into the alleged threats and the threat assessment process will guide the decisions administration will make, including both immediate and long-term actions for the protection of our students and educators," Leas said in a statement. "While the investigative process is underway, the student who allegedly made the threats has not been in school or in contact with any Cheney Middle School students or staff."
Principal Lennon initially sent a message to staff about the threat report, but the district waited until later Thursday morning to send a statement to parents, Leas said.
She said a message was not immediately sent to parents because there was no social media threat and only a small group of students were aware of the alleged threat. However, once the incident caught the attention of news media, the district prepared a statement to release to the public.
"We appreciate the vigilance of our student body in reporting things they know are not right," Cheney Middle School staff wrote in an email to parents. "Their support is what helps us keep our campus safe."
Mischke said she had no problem with the school district's timing in sending out an email about the investigation.
"They have to investigate it before they even say if it is a true threat," she said. "Things come out all the time. People say things all the time and so if they react to everything it becomes an overreaction and we don't know what's serious and what's not."
In the statement to media, Leas said the district understands it is human nature for parents to want details of potential harm to their children.
"We hope you can understand that the district has a responsibility to all students, which includes ensuring an investigation is done thoroughly and efficiently. At this time, it is not productive to speculate on the child’s identity, motive, or ability to carry out this alleged threat. "
According to district policy, a student who is found to have made a true threat will be subject to discipline, which can include suspension or expulsion. If it is a necessary safety precaution, the district may look for alternative placement of the student and appoint supervision to them during a time of suspension.
The district said Thursday, Nov. 7, it will not be making any other statements on the matter at this time.