High Schools Close After Threats Posted to Social Media

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By: 
Michelle Phillips

MIDDLETON–Both Middleton High School (MHS) and Clark Street Community School (CSCS) were closed on Dec. 11 because of social media threats on Dec. 10. The threats were directed at a sexual violence awareness and prevention walkout scheduled at Firemen’s Park on the day of the closure. The park is adjacent to both high schools.

Three students were arrested, 17-year-old Jakob Ripp, of Middleton, who has been charged as an adult, and two 16-year-olds males. According to a press release from Middleton Police Department, Ripp is tentatively charged with Unlawful Use of Computerized Communications Systems, which has been referred to the Dane County District Attorney’s Office. The 16-year-old boys also face charges as party to the crime.

Middleton Cross Plains Area School District Superintendent Dana Monogue said that the threats included violent images and language on an Instagram account. A student reported the Instagram posts to an adult. The account was taken down after the threats were made. 

“That ‘see something, say something’ approach worked,” Monogue said, and added that no individual students were singled out in the Instagram posts.

Citing two incidents that happened on Dec. 2 in Oshkosh and Dec. 3 in Waukesha, respectively, in which student resource officer shot a student that was a threat, Monogue said, “It absolutely is a sign of our time. Everyday there are reports of school violence and gun violence. It plays a role in how we react.”

The school reacted quickly, starting with informing the Student Resource Officer as soon as the incident occurred, around 3 p.m. 

“Once notified of this threat, the administrative staff at Middleton High School immediately contacted the School Resource Officer and an investigation was initiated.  Based on the threat, school was cancelled at Middleton High School and Clark Street Community School on Wednesday, December 11, 2019,” the police press release read.

Elementary and middle schools remained open on Wednesday as there was no perceived threat to the other schools. Monogue said there was a police presence throughout the day as officers stepped up their patrols at the schools.

The high schools reopened on Dec. 12, and police continued to be present off and on throughout the day. CSCS had a police presence through Friday. 

Monogue said she was pleased with the way the schools and police were able to work together during the incident.

“All three police entities ( Middleton Police Department, Dane County Sheriff and Wisconsin State Patrol) were partners, so we were able to have presence at all the schools. We want to make sure the students, and the staff, feel safe,” she added. “Whenever it comes to matters of police judgement, we trust the police department. My personal observation is that involvement with the police was measurable, thoughtful and appropriate.” 

Monogue said she spent Thursday traveling to all the schools in the district to talk with kids and staff. She said that she wanted to make sure they felt safe so that students could remain focused on education and learning.

Parents learned of the threat as well as the closure through a series of emails sent out by the school. She said that the school received some criticism for closing school. “Some people thought we knew something we weren’t sharing,” she said. “Some thought the police presence meant uniformed officers all day in the buildings.” 

Monogue said that the school would rather err on the side of safety, and said they will examine their communications with parents and work to become better.

“We have, and we will take all threats to school safety seriously–we have to,” Monogue stated. 

She urged parents to talk to kids about making threats and violence and to monitor their social media. “If parents have a concern, reach out to the district personnel any time,” she reminded. 

Monogue said just the day before the threats occurred, she had been meeting with student leaders about the planned walkout. The conversations included discussion of how to make the event safe for all students involved. 

“The student leaders, primarily advocates, are wanting to work with us to improve systems, Monogue said. “Before the threat, there were some thoughtful conversations about things students are passionate about. I don’t want to lose sight of that.”

 

 

 

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