School official removed a Watertown Middle School student from the school who reportedly sent a threat on social media last week.
The threat occurred on Instagram on Nov. 30, but school officials did not hear about it right away. When they did, they contacted the Watertown Police, Watertown Police Lt. Dan Unsworth said at Monday’s School Committee meeting.
“Early on it was determined it was a 13 year old student at the middle school,” Unsworth said. “We don’t believe it was directed at anyone.”
He likened the threat to a discussion at a ball field between youngsters where “pride and posturing” got out of hand.
“We all know 13 year olds say and do things without having a motive in mind,” Unsworth said. “That being said, shortly after identifying the person who sent the message and talking with the families … Very early on we sat down with the staff – myself (Student Resource) Officer Colon and Superintendent (Jean) Fitzgerald was involved – and it was decided the student would be removed for the time being.”
Unsworth said the threat is not unlike others he has seen or heard about in the past, but it came at a time when people were more on edge.
“The timing was unfortunate. People are extra sensitive to safety in light of Paris and San Bernardino,” Unsworth said.
The exact nature of the threat was not disclosed, neither was the identity of the student.
“We have to be sensitive because this involves juveniles,” Unsworth said. “It is not only legal, but appropriate.”
While the school staff was made aware of the threats on Monday morning, they were asked not to discuss it with their classes, said Barbara Gortych, the district’s Assessment and Testing Coordinator who also works with the guidance counselors.
“We decided it was probably not a great idea,” Gortych said. “We have a wide variety of students.”
She mentioned that some come from war-torn parts of the world, others are children of first responders who might also be sensitive. Students who had heard or had some anxiety about the threat could speak with the guidance counselors, Gortych said
Fitzgerald said along with the times we live in, the places where threats occur have changed.
“When I was going to school, and even when I was a building principal, students could call in bomb threats, pass notes, write a note on the wall or in the bathroom,” Fitzgerald said. “With the increased use of social media, the visibility has increased to a global perspective. When you post on Instagram it is visible to the world and it takes on a greater perspective.”
Fitzgerald thanked Unsworth and the Watertown Police for their prompt response.
“We have a great Police Department,” Fitzgerald said.
Police and school officials will be available to meet with parents at 6 p.m. at the middle school, before the school’s winter concert on Tuesday night, Fitzgerald said.