A Confederate flag incident at West Port High School last week turned into threats of violence at the school on social media over the weekend, prompting school officials to beef up security Monday.
WFTV reports three students brought in small Confederate flags to the Ocala, Florida school and waived them during lunch, which offended several black students. The Ocala Star Banner described the three white students – two boys and one girl – as “taunting” other students with the flags.
At one point, the mini flag waving students sparked a confrontation with a black female student, who punched one of her classmates. That student was issued a citation to appear in court, while the other flag waiving students “are being dealt with swiftly and harshly,” the Banner reports.
The flags also apparently instigated a black student rally in the school cafeteria, with black students shouting “black power” in videos that were recorded and later posted online, according to the news site.
The videos and subsequent comments devolved over the weekend into some sort of threat of a school shooting Monday, though the exact nature of the threat is unclear. The incident and threats convinced school officials to call for backup, and 10 police officers patrolled the school Monday. Many parents, meanwhile, opted to keep their kids home because of the threats, WFTV reports.
“This past Thursday, my daughter phoned me from school during lunch while this incident was taking place. She was extremely upset and begged me to pick her up, telling me please don’t let her die there!” parent Michelle Brown posted to Facebook.
“I immediately went and got her. I wanted to speak with someone, but the office was crazy. This incident has now escalated and there has supposed been numerous threats of a mass shooting that’s supposed to take place today…,” she wrote. “We’ve seen countless posts on (Facebook) as well as (Instagram) and Twitter.”
My daughter WILL NOT be attending school tomorrow and I urge parents to use their discretion. My mind is troubled and my heart is breaking. We NEED to pray for our youth!” Brown wrote.
In total about 1,600 of the school’s 2,600 students stayed home Monday, WFTV reports.
Ocala police Sgt. Robie Bonner told the Banner numerous parents called in over the weekend to report possible violence at the school Monday, and investigators interviewed dozens of students Sunday.
“There were no credible threats,” he said.
West Port principal Jayne Ellspermann – national principal of the year in 2014 – said the district is now sifting through Facebook posts and tracking down rumors to determine which other students might face discipline for “causing a school disruption,” the Banner reports.
Ellspermann told the site students will be punished for making comments on social media, or in person, on their personal time if the comments are aimed at disrupting the school environment.
The district’s executive director of student services, Mark Vianello, said that “if an event that takes place in the community initiated by a student spills over onto a school setting and disrupts a campus activity, the Code of Student Conduct can be applied.”
“Depending upon the severity of the disruption, a suspension could be given or the consequence could result in a recommendation for expulsion,” Vianello told the Banner.
Parent Lexi Clawson Sibert posted to Facebook that the incident convinced her to think more seriously about other educational options for her son.
“UGH! This is the high school my son is zoned for,” she posted. “Home school is looking better and better, and actually so is Ireland!”
Other parents said the same.
“I want her to go to school for the socialization aspect, but I’m like, ‘Do I just keep her home and do online schooling?’ I don’t want to do that, but it makes me kind of consider venturing into that,” parent Vanessa Smith told WFTV.