School responds as story ‘morphed’

Taconic Hills, police take students’ online concerns seriously

CRARYVILLE—A threat of violence at the Taconic Hills Central this week has not been confirmed as real, but school and law enforcement officials are taking it seriously.

District Superintendent Dr. Neil Howard told The Columbia Paper this week that a student reported a concern to the high school office about a message posted on a social media site, Friday, December 13.


Both the principle and assistant principle checked it out and it was reported to the State Police at Livingston, who are investigating but have so far found the threat to be unsubstantiated

On Sunday evening, December 15, the situation “got ramped up and the story morphed” into something else, said the superintendent. The initial post was not made by a Taconic Hills student, he said.

As a precautionary measure on Monday, December 16, a school basketball game was moved up to 4 p.m. from 7 p.m. Only players and their parents were allowed to attend—the general public and the media were not permitted in.

After-school events, which included a swim meet were canceled because parents wanted their children home with them, said Dr. Howard, noting he received many phone calls and emails to that effect.

A Sheriff’s deputy and a State trooper were stationed at the school. Tuesday, December 17 school was dismissed early due to the weather.
State Police Sergeant Robin Reed at the Livingston barracks said by phone Tuesday that the incident began with a website post that has since been removed. She said students, most of them 12 to 13-years-old, then commented on the post by texting: “feeding off of it” making it sound like they had some knowledge of an impending incident—that someone was going to “bring it or do the thing.” But when interviewed, the youths actually did not know the individual or have any knowledge about any potential incident, said the sergeant.

Dr. Howard said part of the problem is that people feel free to post anything on social media sites. He urged parents to use the incident as a chance to teach about the responsibility that comes with the use of current communication technology.

The situation also prompted Dr. Howard to send out a recorded telephone alert to district parents Monday, to let them know what was going on.

“The district is taking all necessary precautions to ensure the safety of our students and staff. Therefore we will continue to have a police presence into the near future.

“Please take this opportunity to discuss with your children the appropriate uses of social media and the responsibility that comes with ownership of a communication device.  We will continue to monitor the situation and our schools continue to be a safe place for children,” said the message.

The school district has about 1,500 enrolled students, pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. It provides a public school education for 10 towns across nearly 250 square miles of southeastern, mostly rural, Columbia County: Copake, Hillsdale, the Village of Philmont, parts of the Towns of Ancram, Austerlitz, Claverack, Gallatin, Ghent, Livingston, Northeast (Dutchess County) and Taghkanic, according to the district website.

Dr. Howard said that while such incidents are not frequent at Taconic Hills because of its geographic location, the recent increase in area cell phone coverage–“We’re now 4G,” he said–may change that.

In the event of future incidents, the superintendent said he plans to continue to “take everything seriously” and conduct threat assessments each time.

To contact Diane Valden email .

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