Social media bot targets CPS schools: ‘no viable threat’


Police cars drove around RBHS parking lots today to provide additional safety comfort, Dr. Baker said. Photo by Maya Bell

Rochita Ghosh

[dropcap style=”flat” size=”4″]Y[/dropcap]esterday, Feb. 22, a screenshot circulated around the social media platform Snapchat that said a person may bring guns to one of the Columbia Public Schools (CPS) high schools; RBHS, Hickman High School (HHS) and Battle High School (BHS). The CPS district and the Columbia Police Department (CPD) immediately started investigating the threat, and determined there was no credibility to it.
“The police and the school district looked a lot into it last night, and it was proven to be a hoax; I believe it originated out of California. It wasn’t a viable threat. Apparently, it was sent to many different states [and] school districts and [the bot] just changed the name of the school,” assistant principal Dr. Tim Baker said. “[The police] are confident, from what we were told, that this is not a legit threat but you know how rumors work — they spread, people panic and rightfully so, given the current climate.”
This information is also confirmed by an immediate press release the CPD made at 2 p.m. In a message sent to CPS faculty, superintendent Peter Stiepleman stressed that any threat made to any school in the district is not tolerable, and students who make the threat “are subject to punishment according to Board of Education policy, which could include, but is not limited to, expulsion from the school district.”
“We need to come together as a community to end this disruption of learning,” Stiepleman’s statement said. “I urge you to talk to your students and impress upon them the seriousness of threats in today’s society, especially in light of the recent tragedy.  Ask them to notify you, the school, a trusted adult or law enforcement should they hear of any planned or potential disruptive behavior. The safety of our students and staff is our number one priority, and we will continue to be vigilant.”
Both Baker and Stiepleman refer to the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Fl. that killed 17 students. Threats of gun violence or shootings in schools have increased dramatically since the Florida shooting; there have been roughly 50 threats made on average every day to schools since the day of the shooting, compared to a previous statistic of about 10 threats a day.
Since the threat was uncredible, Dr. Baker said teachers were “made aware this morning” that there was no danger and the learning process could proceed as planned. There was, however, an increased police presence at RBHS today, which Dr. Baker says was not because of a possible threat.
“[It was] just to make sure people feel as comfortable as possible, because you never know,” Dr. Baker said. “I know some police officers just from this area are driving through our parking lots and just stopping by.”
Dr. Baker also noted that increased police presence was not a new phenomenon for today; rather, he believes people noticed because of recent, national events.
“This entire school year there has been an increased police presence because the police officers that have this area have been basically assigned to the schools when they’re not on call,” Dr. Baker said. “If you’re not, make an appearance at the schools. Let them know you’re there.”
[heading size=”16″]Teachers and students react[/heading] Spanish teacher Esteban Pedrazas said that the uncredible threat could be indicative of something else occurring, whether it be within a day or within a year. Pedrazas also noted that because of the email sent to him by the district in the morning, he was extra cautious during the Mid-Winter Assembly today, since it was a large gathering of people — and therefore a potentially easy target.
“I’m always concerned because there’s a lot going on with [the threat], not just today,” Pedrazas said. “I was a little more aware of my surroundings during the assembly to see if there was someone not from here or seemed out of place.”
In contrast, freshman Shruti Gautam said she hadn’t noticed anything unordinary and felt as she would on a regular school day.
“It doesn’t really feel like anything because it’s obviously not true,” Gautam said. “I haven’t seen any extra police officers around, I’ve been told there are [by my civics teacher] but I’m not as affected by it. Others might be. I feel safe [in the school.]”
Dr. Baker said this was the administration’s intended purpose; since there was no viable threat, he and the other administrators saw no reason to heavily publicize it and disrupt a school day.
“Our response has been quiet on purpose,” Dr. Baker said. “If you make a big deal out of something, it’s going to become a big deal. We’re just trying to have a normal school day.”
Did you hear about the threat today? What was your reaction? Tell us below.