Two separate incidents at the Conway Junior High School — a rumor about plans to bring guns to school and a note questioning a girl’s safety — have sparked concern among parents who worry over the safety of their children in the wake of a mass shooting of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., Friday.
"There has been no threat to students," superintendent Greg Murry said Wednesday. "It’s been blown way out of proportion."
On Tuesday, Junior High principal Travis Barrentine heard from students that another student was spreading rumors "that students were going to bring guns to school this week," according to an email from Murry. When questioned, the student said he lied.
In a phone announcement to parents Tuesday afternoon, Barrentine called the story about students bringing guns to school "some rumors."
"I want you to know that our administrators investigated this situation fully today," Barrentine told parents, according to a text version released by Murry as part of a Freedom of Information request by the Log Cabin Democrat. "We addressed the student who started the rumors, and the student admitted that the entire story was fabricated and untrue."
Barrentine did not go into specifics surrounding the "rumors" in his announcement but noted that because of "recent events" he wanted to be "proactive and send this message."
"Please know that our primary concern is the safety and well being of our students always," Barrentine said.
After answering an initial question Wednesday, Barrentine directed all subsequent questions to Murry because Murry is the "media contact" for the district, Barrentine said.
At the same school, also Tuesday, a girl’s parent gave the assistant principal a handwritten note in which a boy asked the girl to stay home "because he was concerned about the Connecticut shootings and he thought that someone might do something," Murry said in email.
Murry said the note is between a concerned boyfriend over his girlfriend, both of whom are in eighth and ninth grades, and the note did not allude to any violent plans.
"He never threatened violence and the note does not say some form of violence would definitely occur — only that he was afraid that it would," Murry said in email. "There was never a legitimate threat made."
Murry refused to release a copy of the note but said notes of this kind are "uncommon." Murry cited "discipline issue" as a reason for withholding the document. Students involved in both the rumor and note incidents are being disciplined, Murry confirmed in email.
Statewide, schools — including Conway Public Schools — have been reviewing protocols, disaster and recovery plans in the wake of the shooting deaths of 26 teachers, staff and schoolchildren at an elementary school in Connecticut on Friday, said Phyllis Stewart, spokeswoman for the state education department.
"Safety is always our first concern, and we will do everything we can to prevent acts of violence in our schools," Murry wrote.
Districts handle their own threats, so the education department might not know whether schools were receiving more of them, Stewart said. The department is not getting in calls of increased incidents of threats, she said. Murry said the Conway district is not seeing an increase in threats.
What happened in Connecticut is having a ripple effect, Stewart said. Nationwide, parents are worried, she said. Murry said parents, students, teachers and staff are "sad and there is obviously more tension" since Friday’s shooting.
In an email earlier in the day, Barrentine wrote the note between girlfriend and boyfriend "was written out of concern over recent tragic events and the publicity surrounding the end of the Mayan calendar on Dec. 21." The Mayan calendar’s ending date, which is Friday, has been the spotlight of media articles and some believe the date 12/21/12 is when the world ends.
Murry said the schools in Conway are trying to give students "as much normalcy as is possible."
"I think (the Connecticut shooting) is affecting us nationwide and worldwide," Stewart said. "As a parent, it makes you stop and think about ‘I want to make sure everything is good for my child.’ It brings awareness and the knowledge that we have to make every day count for our kids."