Thousands of Burlington-area kids stay home from school amid nationwide viral threat

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Thousands of Burlington-area students stayed home from school Friday after anonymous threats circulated on social media platforms nationwide this week.

The trend, which declared Dec. 17 "American School Shooting Day," originated on social media platforms, including TikTok, with posts warning about the possibility of nationwide shootings or bombings.

The Burlington School District informed the public of the viral threat in emails to parents and a Facebook post Wednesday, but stressed that the district had been in contact with local law enforcement and that it was determined that there was no credible threat to area schools.

Officials with the Iowa Department of Public Safety stated Thursday they had not found any specific or credible threats to any Iowa schools.

Still, officers with the Burlington and West Burlington police departments and the Des Moines County Sheriff's Office increased their patrols and presence at area schools Friday.

There were no reported incidents in any of them.

More: Extra police in Burlington, Danville schools Friday after national TikTok trend, but no credible local threat

Despite Burlington High School and the middle schools already having student resource officers on site, Major Jeff Klein with the Burlington Police Department told The Hawk Eye that the department increased its presence at all Burlington schools Friday before, during and after classes, keeping an eye out for anything out of the ordinary.

Officials with the West Burlington, Danville and Mediapolis school district also confirmed increased police presence to ease any safety concerns.

Officials with the Burlington, West Burlington and Danville school districts confirmed to The Hawk Eye that a significant number of students did not show up for school Friday, but also stressed it is unclear if this was due to illness, safety concerns or for any other reasons.

"Unfortunately, social media drives a lot of the way law enforcement responds to any incident," Klein said. "Our job is simply to ensure that our students maintain a safe learning environment and are safe prior to and after school as well."

In Burlington, nearly 1,900 students did not show up for class Friday (approximately 57%), according to Savannah Prescott, community relations coordinator for the district.

In West Burlington, more than 260 students were absent (approximately 25%), according to superintendent Lisa Beames.

In Danville, 232 students, including preschoolers, did not come to class (approximately 33%), according to superintendent Thomas Ward.

More: Authorities say there's no specific threat to Iowa schools as social media rumors spread

Reaction among local parents who decided to send their children to class and those who opted to keep them home has been mixed.

"I kept mine home. Her life is not worth the risk of the what-ifs," Bethany Decker told The Hawk Eye. "If something were to happen to her, especially if I shrugged this situation off, I'd never forgive myself."

"I sent mine to school," Samantha Davis said. "First off, that's why there's an officer there at all times. Secondly, if something was going to happen, there won't be any warning — we've already seen that with multiple schools. And lastly, I don't want my child to go without her education."

"We elected to send (our daughter) to school today," Beth Patterson Fleming said. "As parents, we felt today is probably safer than any other day due to the heightened awareness and law enforcement presence.

"School shootings can happen the other 364 days as well, and we chose as parents to have faith in our school security and administration and educators to keep our daughter safe along with the entire student body."

Reaction among local school officials was also mixed, but instead with feelings of frustration and concern.

Prescott said that, despite the seriousness of the situation and support from local police, viral threats like the one experienced Friday can negatively impact the community in multiple ways.

"We are disheartened by the major impact this has on law enforcement, schools, students and families across the nation," Prescott said. "Fabricated threats and these types of social media activities don't only cause fear, but lead to lost instructional time and an unnecessary strain on schools and law enforcement."

Beames said Friday's viral threat to schools nationwide not only made the school day additionally difficult for staff, but also caused alarm for faculty, administrators and district families.

"The most precious thing that a parent has is their child," Beames said. "When we're in fear about the safety of that child, we go into 'Mama Bear' mode. That's our human nature. ... We have to react."

Editor's note: a previous version of this article stated that the Burlington School District first informed the public of the threat on Thursday (Dec. 16). The district first informed the public of the threat on Wednesday, Dec. 15.

This article originally appeared on The Hawk Eye: Burlington schools see thousands of student absences amid viral threat

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