COEUR d’ALENE — One student was arrested Thursday and another student faces school disciplinary action following several days of angst for students, parents and staff at Lake City High School.
The students are accused of using social media applications to send messages threatening Lake City students.
The messages began appearing Friday, when a photo of a student with a weapon was posted on social media with a derogatory message about Lake City High School cheerleaders. The message prompted the school district to escort the Lake City cheerleaders from a game in Post Falls back to the school and send them home with their parents.
Detectives, working with school officials, identified a student suspected of sending the message on Friday.
“Criminal charges were not applicable in that case,” said Coeur d’Alene Police Detective Jared Reneau, in a news release.
The student does, however, face possible expulsion .
Police and school officials are still investigating a report of threats made on SnapChat Sunday against the high school and a Lake City cheerleader. A suspect has not yet been determined in connection with Sunday’s messages.
Another report came in Wednesday that a person posted an online threat toward Lake City High School in a group chat with about 250 users who appear to be students. Then on Thursday morning, a student reported to police that a photo was posted on social media of a Lake City student holding a rifle with a caption referencing a “threat list.” Detectives determined the messages posted Wednesday and Thursday were from the same suspect, a boy who attends Lake City. That student was arrested and is facing four misdemeanor counts of using the telephone to terrify, threaten or harass, and he could also be expelled.
The continuing threats prompted school officials, working with Coeur d’Alene police officers, to enhance already increased security measures at Lake City on Thursday.
Every person entering the school Thursday morning was greeted by an adult, and law enforcement officers were nearby.
Handwritten signs were taped to the doors of the school alerting students they were not to turn on or use their cell phones, and no student would be allowed to leave campus for lunch.
“The reason why we have the school open is, I believe we are 100 percent safe, but no human being can guarantee the safety of all these kids. I just know we are much more safe than any normal day at Lake City High School,” said Principal Deanne Clifford during a press conference held early Thursday at the school.
Students were also not allowed to leave the school before 2:30 p.m. without checking out at the office.
Banning cell phones and keeping kids at the school will help keep kids safe, but it also serves another purpose.
“We are a very close community and these students care about each other. They want to be able to have the freedoms they’ve had in the past... We feel like if we close school or something, we’re buying into that threat, but if we tighten it down, make kids very secure, lock those doors, require parent permission to leave the building, students are going to start talking amongst themselves and hearing maybe who’s doing this,” Clifford said.
At the start of the school day on Thursday, Clifford made an announcement asking students who know anything about the threatening messages to come forward, and told them the identities of those who do will be kept confidential.
Clifford said she had multiple conversations with students Thursday after making the announcement.
Students have been allowed to continue to have their cell phones with them at school, Clifford said, because parents provide their children with the devices so they can maintain contact with them.
“We understand that parents’ anxiety is heightened. There’s fear out there, and they might have a tracker on their child’s cell phone. I would want to know where my child is at all times,” Clifford said.
If a parent needs to speak with a student, Clifford said the parent can call the office and a phone call will be arranged. Students who need to make calls are asked to ask for permission to go to the office.
If a phone is used when it shouldn’t be, it will be confiscated, Clifford said, and a parent will be called to come get the phone.
“That sort of sends the message to kids that I don’t want to take my phone out and be activating social media and adding to the drama that is going on here,” Clifford said. “Rather than that, their phones will be off and that social media piece will calm down a little bit so we can investigate the situation.”
Keeping kids from using social media while at school limits distractions, she said, and helps keep fear in check. She said rumors often spread among students and then reach parents who don’t know if what they’re hearing is true.
“That really helps us dial down, get to class, do the work, be safe, and let us do the communication for now, but I’m never going to not allow a parent to contact their child. That’s just not going to happen,” Clifford said. “I’m a mom, so I know, I need to have contact when I want it.”
Clifford said, in a message to parents, that students at Lake City are using social media inappropriately and irresponsibly.
“This needs to stop now, and we need your help to make that happen,” Clifford said, in the message.
She encouraged parents to talk to their kids about their use of social media apps, to be aware of the apps their kids are using and what they are sharing.
The social media apps used for some of the threatening messages were SnapChat and Sarahah, apps that anonymize messages.
“The increasing use of apps that allow for anonymous messages is of particular concern to us and law enforcement. These apps encourage the spread of reckless rumors, dangerous pranks, bullying and threats,” Clifford said.
Clifford said parents with questions or information should call her at the school at 208-769-0769.
The extra security measures in place Thursday at Lake City High will continue Friday as the police investigation continues.