GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A series of threats and vandalism, spawned from social media trends, has been plaguing Alachua County Public Schools, according to superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon.
In a message posted to the district’s Facebook page Wednesday, Simon said the impact of these incidents is not only affecting the school community.
A spokesperson for the district confirmed Thursday there have been three evacuations at Buchholz High School, four at Newberry High School, one at Oak View Middle School, two at Gainesville High School and one at Eastside High School due to various types of threats.
After News4Jax talked to the spokesperson, another bomb threat led to an evacuation at Gainesville High School around 12:30 p.m., according to the Gainesville Police Department.
A 17-year-old student at Buchholz High School is now facing up to 15 years in prison after being accused of making bomb threats, according to the Alachua County Sheriff. The sheriff said he will be prosecuted as an adult.
“This has affected time in school, extracurricular activities, access to school facilities and the ability of local law enforcement officers to do their jobs. It’s also created a lot of anxiety for students, families and staff,” Simon’s message said.
The following is a message from Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon that was sent to all parents/guardians of ACPS students...Posted by Alachua County Public Schools on Wednesday, September 29, 2021
Simon also warned that the recourse for such behavior would be fierce, saying that disciplinary action, including expulsion, has already been taken against students found to be involved. Some, she added, have also faced criminal charges.
“Sometimes young people don’t recognize how serious this behavior can be,” Simon’s message said. “They may consider it a joke. They may assume their social media postings will remain private, or that they won’t be penalized because of their age. This is not true. The consequences can seriously affect their future, in school and beyond.”
At Newberry High School, the campus was evacuated at least four separate times, including on Sept. 23, 24 and 27, due to reported bomb threats on campus. All three threats were investigated and eventually cleared by law enforcement. The social media posts for three of the incidents can be seen below.
Newberry High students are being evacuated to West Park due to a bomb threat while law enforcement sweeps the school. Parents may pick up their students, but it is not required. We will post updates.— Alachua Schools (@AlachuaSchools) September 23, 2021
Newberry High School students are again being evacuated due to a bomb threat while law enforcement sweeps the school.— Alachua Schools (@AlachuaSchools) September 24, 2021
NHS students are again being evacuated to West Park due to a bomb threat, but will not be allowed to leave early unless signed out by an authorized parent/guardian. Students will return to class when law enforcement has completed a sweep of the campus & given the all clear.— Alachua Schools (@AlachuaSchools) September 27, 2021
The district’s spokesperson, Jackie Johnson, confirmed a BHS student was caught and is facing expulsion. Johnson said at least two other students are facing expulsion due to vandalism that’s believed to be related to the TikTok trend known as ‘devious licks.’
“There is a legal process we have to follow before expelling students, including approval at a public meeting by the school board, so I don’t believe anyone has been expelled yet--we’re still in the process,” Johnson said. “Also, if and when more students are caught for some of these incidents, the number of those facing expulsion is likely to grow.”
Some of the incidents did not involve actual threats, but rather unfounded rumors on social media, which nevertheless required staff and law enforcement personnel to investigate and address the situation with students and families.
Art Forgery, spokesperson for the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, points out that the process is expensive, as each threat must be fully investigated.
“Each one is taken seriously,” Forgery said. “The school follows their evacuation procedures, we bring in personnel, it’s very taxing on resources for us. The school buildings are large. You have lockers and different things that are hiding areas.”
The superintendent said that the district includes internet safety and digital citizenship in the curriculum for students, utilizing teaching tools from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s NetSmartz program. The program’s online description says it “provides age-appropriate videos and activities to help teach children be safer online with the goal of helping children to become more aware of potential online risks and empowering them to help prevent victimization by making safer choices on- and offline.”
Simon encouraged parents to discuss with their children the potential consequences of their online activity and how to interact with others on the internet.
“The vast majority of our students will be spending a significant amount of time online for the rest of their lives,” Simon’s message concluded. “We owe it to them to provide the tools they’ll need to navigate and participate in the digital world responsibly and safely.”