WORTHINGTON — Student attendance across Independent School District 518 campuses was down Thursday after a school shooting threat was made and spread Wednesday evening across social media.
Worthington schools had a two-hour late start Thursday in response to the threat that was made on Snapchat, screen captured and spread on social media Wednesday night. The district reported working closely with the Worthington Police Department, who announced just after noon Thursday that an arrest had been made. Due the suspect's age, his/her identity will not be released per Minnesota State Statute.
While not believed to be a credible threat, it caused fear among many in the community.
Many parents decided to keep their children home the entire day, which is reflected in the school's attendance record.
According to Thursday's attendance record provided by the district, approximately 70% of students district-wide were in class Thursday. That compares to a 95% normal rate of daily attendance.
The middle school recorded the most absences among District 518 buildings. Approximately 51% of WMS students attended Thursday, compared to a normal 96% daily attendance rate.
Other approximate building attendance rates included: Prairie Elementary, 76% Thursday, 97% typical; WHS, 81% Thursday, 94% typical; Learning Center, 59% Thursday, 74% typical.
According to Superintendent John Landgaard, whether or not absences were excused depends on what was communicated to offices. Absences are excused if parents make contact and provide information related to the absence to building offices.
Counselors give conversation tips
Parents should answer questions truthfully, stick to the facts, remain calm and, above all else, reassure children they're safe at school when talking about threats of violence at school, Independent School District 518 counselors advise.
The counselors encourage parents to talk to their children, but how they approach it may look different depending on the age of their children.
Counselors at Prairie Elementary, Laurie Knudson and Maggie Gerdes encourage parents to answer their children's questions truthfully without going into more detail than necessary. Depending on the age of the child, information may need to be repeated multiple times.
When it comes to talking with teens, parents are also encouraged not to disclose more information than they're asking to know. If they ask, remain calm and stick to the facts released by law enforcement and avoid jumping to conclusions.
Allowing children to express how they feel, validating that they're heard and encouraging open communication are also important.
District 518 counselors at upper grade levels also advise parents discuss with their teenagers appropriate, non-violent ways to handle strong, negative emotions. Likewise, parents should emphasize their teen's role in helping maintain safety at school by reporting suspicious behavior or threats.
Knudson also encouraged parents to talk to their children about appropriate social media use.
"Monitor what they are viewing and when they are viewing it," she said. "If (there are) concerns, talk to them."
District counselors and social workers are available to provide additional support to parents or children if needed.