MARION, Iowa - Social media is being blamed for fueling a fire storm around the way Linn-Mar schools handled a threat at the high school.
Monday and Tuesday, KCRG-TV9 received several phone calls and e-mails about Marion Police cars and State Patrol Troopers at Linn-Mar high school. At the time, the district said the police presence was a scheduled event. Wednesday, we learned police were called by administration after the district received what it calls "electronic communication messages."
Marion police told us there was a threat at the school. But Superintendent Katie Mulholland doesn't want to call it a threat but says social media is making the situation worse.
Parents can find a statement on the district's website. It never specifically talks about this week's incident but tells parents the "district treats all threats seriously, investigating promptly and efficiently."
But several concerned parents contacted KCRG because they said the district was not forthcoming and did not readily share with parents what was happening at the school. One parent wrote on the KCRG-TV9 Facebook Page, "LM needs some sort of a parental notification system. FB is not the way I, or any parent I'm assuming, wants to find out about these situations."
Superintendent Katie Mulholland responded to that criticism Wednesday in a statement released to KCRG.
"With the increased use of social media and electronic messaging formats, it is very difficult to determine what is rumor; what is straight communication; what is an exchange between individuals, appropriate or not; what is accurate and complete information; or what is totally fiction. We do check with the Marion Police department as appropriate."
Mulholland says since the "Sandy Hook Elementary shootings" the district plans to have increased police presence at the school on a regular basis.
KCRG was not told the exact reason why Marion Police were called to the school this week. And as of right now, Mulholland says the situation is over. Mulholland says the district plans to review its cell phone policy and security protocols in the near future.
Here's the statement Linn Mar released to KCRG Wednesday:
"Linn-Mar Community School District's Superintendent, Katie Mulholland, Ed.D., released the following statement regarding the recent increased police presence at Linn-Mar High School:
Recent concerns regarding the presence of the Marion Police Department at Linn-Mar High School have generated many questions. The most important question is about the safety of Linn-Mar students and the security in place that assures that safety.
On Monday, January 28th Linn-Mar High School administration contacted the Marion Police Department requesting their presence at the high school because of electronic communication messages that had been shared with them. As always, the number one concern was the safety and security of the students and employees so school was held as usual. The decision to have Marion Police at the school was consistent with an agreement worked out last spring with the Marion Police Department about visibility in Linn-Mar Schools. As communicated with parents at that time, Marion police officers would routinely visit and walk through Marion schools and be visible to staff and students. Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in December, we asked the Marion Police Department to step up their visits for several weeks without any specific reason except to show that both Linn-Mar and the Marion Police Department are dedicated to the safety and security of our students and staff.
What is a threat to safety and security? With the increased use of social media and electronic messaging formats, it is very difficult to determine what is rumor; what is straight communication; what is an exchange between individuals, appropriate or not; what is accurate and complete information; or what is totally fiction. For administration to sort out all of the content as well as the forms of messaging takes cooperation and assistance from a number of people as well as time to process. We do check with the Marion Police department as appropriate. We will continue to use the processes we have identified as being effective. That means the Marion Police Department will continue to be involved and they will be visible in our schools. Because of recent, tragic events that have occurred across the country, we will always want them to be visible. When a situation is determined to be a threat, action different from the normal operations will be taken and there will be notifications with varying levels of information released depending on the threat. That is our commitment. Please keep in mind that others external to Linn-Mar may describe a situation from their point of view in their words. This may be different from how we release the information.
Our crisis plans identify over 30 situations and protocols involving a number of people. These plans and the information gathered in executing these plans will remain confidential. If the information contained in these plans were obtained by the "wrong" person an emergency could occur because that person would now have information about how the District handles safety and security protocols.
Social media and electronic messaging formats have the capacity, because of their viral nature, to spread inaccurate information that is damaging. That is something we cannot control. We continue to emphasize responsible use. The adage, "in the absence of information, people create it", is so absolutely true. Because of the nature of social media and electronic messaging, this needs to change with the understanding that if there is a safety and security threat at Linn-Mar, normal operations would change and by the nature of that change, information will be forthcoming but not necessarily instantaneous. The first information will be the change. Based on our relationship with the Marion Police Department, their presence in our schools at any given time is not considered a change. Our attention will be focused intentionally on the safety and security of our students and staff at that time. Then, when we are assured of control of the threat, communication, to the degree we can share, will be forthcoming. As is the practice for weather notifications, the information will first appear on the Linn-Mar website, http://www.linnmar.k12.ia.us/
Our number one priority at Linn-Mar is student and staff safety and we work to ensure that every day."