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Post-Newtown fears, rumors cause Michigan schools to cancel classes

Published: Friday, Dec. 21, 2012 9:27 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — DETROIT — Students across Lapeer County and in some other parts of Michigan are getting an early winter break as schools shut down in response to rumors of potential threats of violence against students.

Tom English, superintendent in North Branch Area Schools, said Thursday morning that the rumors — none of which appear to be credible — have been disruptive and are impacting teaching and learning.

“The process of education has just been so disruptive that it was a unanimous decision by all superintendents” in Lapeer County to shut down, he said. “We’re not happy about it.”

English said there’s been a lot of third-, fourth- and fifth-hand information being passed around by adults and children. “Kids are coming to school indicating that they’re concerned about what they’re hearing. When children are thinking about that sort of stuff — about whether I’m safe — it’s very difficult for them to concentrate” on classes, English said. “It’s just been an unfortunate series of events that have escalated.”

English said the superintendents discussed whether shutting down would lend credence to the rumors.

“We kept going back to — we’re going to be criticized regardless of our decision. We just felt we had to do what was best, given our unique circumstances at this time. With this break in front of us, things will calm down and we’ll get back to teaching and learning.”

The news comes after a gunman killed 20 students and six adults last week at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., heightening security concerns at schools across the country.

In a letter posted to the district’s website Wednesday, Lapeer Community Schools Superintendent Matt Wandrie said rumors about violence against students are false.

“Given the recent events in Connecticut, there have been numerous rumors circulating in our district, and in neighboring districts, about potential threats of violence against students,” Wandrie wrote in the letter. “Additionally, rumors connected to the Mayan calendar predicted end of the world on Friday have also surfaced.”

“These rumors of violence have been thoroughly investigated and determined to be false. There have been no credible threats made against any of our students.

“However, these rumors have been a serious distraction for students, teachers, administrators, and parents. Therefore, given the significant disruption to the teaching and learning process, I have decided, along with my fellow superintendents of Lapeer County, to cancel school for both Thursday, Dec. 20, and Friday, Dec. 21. This includes all after school extracurricular events, programs and athletic contests and practices.

“Although we in the county are reluctant to cancel school because the rumors are unsubstantiated, we feel it is the most appropriate decision given the gravity of recent events and our present circumstances.”

In metro Detroit, some districts are increasing security Friday rather than shutting down.

Hazel Park Superintendent James Meisinger said the district would have increased police presence. All doors will be locked and supervised.

“There have been some things written on Facebook that we’ve investigated and found they’re not very substantive,” Meisinger said.

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