School cops tasked with rumor patrol

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Friday will be a normal day just like any other.

That is the message being spread by local schools and the Kalispell Police Department’s school resource officers, who have been hard at work investigating and summarily quashing rumors in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting and in anticipation of the end of the Mayan calendar.

School Resource Officer Cory Clarke, who works at Flathead High School, said that although people have been on edge, the tension has lowered considerably as rumors have been addressed.

“The tension level I felt in the air the last two days has decreased monumentally,” Clarke said. “On Monday it was almost a palpable thing, an ‘I wonder what’s happening, what’s being done’ kind of thing. The next day and today have pretty much been business as usual.”

While discussing the rumors, Clarke took a moment to address one that had been circulating from students to their families.

“People have made statements to their parents about Flathead being in a lockdown — that was another rumor,” Clarke said. “It wasn’t any kind of a lockdown; what it was is that the school is going back to the basics on how they normally would operate.”

Those basics include doors to classrooms being closed while class is in session and limiting access to enter the building while ensuring students and staff can leave through any door at any time.

Clarke said the situation has been worsened by the confluence of several issues — the Newtown massacre, the end of the Mayan calendar cycle on Friday and associated end-of-the-world theories, the school rumor that started before the shooting and snowballed afterward and the nonsanctioned “senior skip day” planned by some students for Friday.

At Glacier High School, School Resource Officer Jason Parce said the same issues are prevalent.

“There’s kids on edge,” Parce said. “There’s kids refusing to come to school on Friday and there’s parents that don’t want their kids to come to school on Friday.”

In an email sent out to parents Wednesday morning, Glacier Principal Callie Langohr delineated the school’s perspective on Friday’s classes, beginning with a statement that it would be “school as usual” and that there is “no credible evidence to support a reason for closing or modifying school.”

However, the school will take steps to ensure a safe and normal school day.

According to Langohr, attendance will be taken each period, there will be increased supervision and there will be no hall passes issued. In addition, the north and south main entrances will be locked except for one door on each side and all students will be funneled into those single unlocked doors. No practice evacuations or lockdown drills will be held until January.

“We have a solid critical incident plan in place. This plan has been in place since the first day we opened Glacier,” Langohr wrote. “In addition, our facility is designed with many security features in place. Because of the recent Connecticut incident, we will review the plan again at a January faculty meeting.”

Parents will be briefed about the plan, including any changes, at a Feb. 4 parent event.

In the meantime, Parce said every comment and rumor that surfaces is immediately being investigated.

“We’re doing everything we can and will continue doing everything we can to make sure students are safe,” Parce said. “We’re following up on everything, regardless of how minor some people think it’s going to be.”

He said that every single rumor that has arisen so far has been found to be without merit.

Along with her comments on the actions of the school, Langohr used her contact with the parents to also speak from the heart.

“We have had a hard week as a nation and as a school,” Langohr wrote. “The incident in Connecticut has ripped at the hearts and souls of all decent people. We have been monitoring the other large high schools in Montana and we aren’t alone in dealing with unfounded rumors and inappropriate behavior from a few students intent on raising anxiety levels. Their behavior is irresponsible and we are holding them accountable for their inappropriate actions.”

Reporter Jesse Davis may be reached at 758-4441 or by email at jdavis@dailyinterlake.com.

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