Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Education

Rumors of school violence lead Hillsborough deputies to boost security

TAMPA — As students react to a mass school shooting in Connecticut while winding down for winter break, some are trafficking in alarming rumors about campus violence.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and the school district's security staff have been busy since Sunday chasing stories about potential trouble — some of the reports mentioning shootings — in at least eight schools.

"The sheriff made it very clear we're going to investigate every one of these," said sheriff's Cpl. Jason Napoli of the agency's school resources section.

Similar stories are spreading in Pinellas County. On both sides of the bay, much of the chatter is focused on a mythical apocalypse Friday, supposedly based on a calendar devised by ancient Mayans.

Threats have been posted on Facebook and other social media sites, and sent in mass text messages that make it hard to track the sender.

"It's like wildfire the way it spreads," Napoli said. "One or two kids to dozens in minutes. Maybe even hundreds."

In Pinellas, rumors have named at least four high schools and a middle school. Clearwater spokeswoman Joelle Castelli said the Police Department was told by school officials Tuesday about a rumored "attack" on Tarpon Springs High School by Countryside High School students Friday.

Castelli said police went to Countryside and spoke to four students allegedly involved. The students "said it was all blown out of proportion," Castelli said. She said police determined there was no assault planned.

In Hillsborough, two rumored threats have resulted in arrests. A 15-year-old Armwood High student created a fake Facebook page and sent a message to her real profile, threatening to bring a gun to school and harm people, the Sheriff's Office said. She was arrested last Friday.

A 13-year-old Farnell Middle student was arrested Tuesday after the Sheriff's Office said he wrote graffiti on his driveway that read, "From Con to FL Farnell UR Next!!"

Bullets have also been found this week on two Hillsborough school buses.

Napoli declined to name any Hillsborough schools that are the subject of rumors to avoid generating even more talk.

Schools spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said she hopes the talk will settle down, although she understands students become restless as vacation approaches.

"We're trying to have normal school," Cobbe said. "We want to tell the kids to concentrate on their studies."

Counselors are available, she said, if any students have trouble coping with news of last Friday's shooting at a Connecticut school that resulted in the deaths of 20 children and six adults.

In the meantime, an increased police and security presence that began on Monday at Hillsborough campuses will continue and intensify on Friday, including additional attention at the schools mentioned in the rumors.

"They will be in and around our schools, but they may not be obvious," Cobbe said. "They may be in plain clothes or in an unmarked car."

Tampa police Sgt. Kert Rojka said his department will increase coverage Friday, as it routinely does before students go on break.

Comments
Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is ‘Feminism’

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is ‘Feminism’

NEW YORK — This may or may not come as a surprise: Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is "feminism." Yes, it’s been a big year or two or 100 for the word. In 2017, lookups for feminism increased 70 percent over 2016 on Mer...
Published: 12/12/17
‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

RIVERVIEW — As a foster parent with two sons of her own, Kayla Storey has learned all the tricks to get her kids out of bed and off to school every morning. But this year, Storey says she’s the one waking up every school day with a knot i...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/11/17

University of Central Florida Greeks won’t hold social events, serve alcohol for 6 weeks this spring

ORLANDO — University of Central Florida fraternities and sororities won’t host social activities or any events with drinking for at least the first six weeks of the spring semester, up from the two-week ban on alcohol that has been in place in the pa...
Published: 12/08/17
Amid reports of rapes, beatings, cover-ups, grand jury to probe juvenile justice abuses

Amid reports of rapes, beatings, cover-ups, grand jury to probe juvenile justice abuses

Disturbed by stories about the rape of teens by supervisory staff, a pandemic of sometimes savage force, brutal beatdowns ordered by youth care workers and policies that permit the hiring of violent offenders, Miami-Dade’s state attorney wants to kno...
Published: 12/07/17
Henderson: Some basic facts about Hillsborough’s teacher pay imbroglio

Henderson: Some basic facts about Hillsborough’s teacher pay imbroglio

Hillsborough County’s public school teachers are horn-honking, voice-raising, sign-waving, foot-stomping mad, and I can’t blame them. They are paying for a problem they didn’t create. About one-third of the workforce was expecting to receive a $4,000...
Published: 12/07/17
In Watershed Ambassadors Program, Pasco students learn about natural Florida

In Watershed Ambassadors Program, Pasco students learn about natural Florida

SPRING HILL — On a small wooden dock at the Cross Bar Ranch, Cynthia Brinker gingerly pokes through the trappings in her fishing net, plucking out a tiny creature to examine close up. "What the heck is this?" the Weightman Middle School studen...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Crognale named 2018 Hernando Principal of the Year

Crognale named 2018 Hernando Principal of the Year

BROOKSVILLE — For just a year and a half, Steve Crognale has been the principal at the Endeavor and Discovery Academies. But now, he’s been named the Hernando School District Principal of the Year for 2018. Endeavor serves students, most of them hig...
Published: 12/06/17
‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

RIVERVIEW — As a foster parent with two sons of her own, Kayla Storey is skilled at calming first-day-of-school jitters. But this school year, Storey says she’s the one waking up every weekday with a knot in her stomach.It’s been there ever since th...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/11/17
Why do universities handle sexual assault cases, anyway?

Why do universities handle sexual assault cases, anyway?

News stories about campus sexual assault often get the question, "Why do schools handle these cases, anyway?"Readers often wonder how universities got tasked with handling these convoluted cases in the first place. Where, they ask, do the police come...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/11/17
Hillsborough teachers keep the heat on after $92 bonus offer

Hillsborough teachers keep the heat on after $92 bonus offer

TAMPA — The second Hillsborough County School Board meeting in less than a month took place Tuesday against a backdrop of honking car horns, cheering teachers and audience members moving through the room in shifts.Dressed in blue union-issued T-shirt...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17