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Updated: Friday, 21 Dec 2012, 6:38 AM EST
Published : Wednesday, 19 Dec 2012, 10:53 PM EST
FENNVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) - Dozens of schools across Michigan have canceled classes for the rest of the week, and some for the rest of the year, due to rumors about threats circulating through social media.
Kalamazoo Public Schools is the latest district to close, posting this statement on its website Thursday --
"Given heightened concerns in communities across the state and in Kalamazoo we understand that some of our students and families are uneasy. We feel that closing the district for one additional day in the holiday break would calm a lot of the anxiety in our community, and that it’s the right thing to do."
Four Battle Creek-area schools Thursday night canceled events and classes for Friday because of "unsubstantiated" rumors about the threats.
"The superintendents from Harper Creek, Lakeview, Battle Creek and Pennfield, in conjunction with local law enforcement, have decided to close school and all activities for Thursday evening and Friday, December 21, 2012 while local law enforcement agencies and school administration investigates the allegations, which appear to be unsubstantiated," the schools said in a statement released Thursday.
They also said the impending snowstorm was a factor in the decision.
Neither police nor the school districts have details about the rumor. But one student at Harper Creek contacted 24 Hour News 8 to say he was the reason school closed -- that other students started a false rumor about him bringing a gun to school.
"This is really getting out of hand guys rumor needs to stop," he wrote on his Facebook page. "I don't own any type of gun nor would I ever bring any type of weapon to school."
Melissa Church's kids go to Wattells Park Elementary and Harper Creek Middle schools. Even if the district hadn't shut down the school, she said she would have held her kids out.
"If the school isn't going to take charge, you have to as a parent," she said.
But other parents trust the district.
"If they told me my kid had to go to school tomorrow, they would go, and if they said they didn't, I'm OK with that, too," said parent Rachel Dougherty..
Authorities will continue to investigate how the rumor started.
Another school in West Michigan, Central Montcalm, canceled classes on Friday due to illness. But they also said they are looking into rumors of threats.
In Fennville, superintendent Dirk Weeldreyer said there were reports of rumors about a threat, but no threat was found. The Fennville Public Schools locked all its doors and is screening all visitors.
In a statement, Weeldreyer said,"We also asked the Allegan County Sheriff's Department to assist in providing a presence at today's elementary music program. Other than those precautions we have continued with normal activities...
"...I would like to reassure all concerned that we have been informed by the Michigan State Police that the individual alleged to be at the heart of the rumors has been located and is being questioned. We appreciate the assistance of the Michigan State Police and the Allegan County Sheriff's Department in resolving this matter quickly."
One Fennville parent was comforted by these added security measures.
"Actually I was kind of glad to see that the cops were here just because of everything that happened on Friday, so it made us feel safer," Jennifer McElroy told 24 Hour News 8. "I'm really afraid to send her to school anymore."
She and her husband, Mark, only learned about the rumors of threats in Fennville when they came to see their daughter Tiffany's Christmas program.
"It was kind of a shock because when we drove up we saw the state police at the high school," she said.
"Actually I was kind of glad to see that the cops were here just because of everything that happened on Friday, so it made us feel safer," Jennifer McElroy told 24 Hour News 8.
Her husband, Mark, said, "I'm really afraid to send her to school anymore."
He wished the district had let them know about the security threat rumors, but she said she thinks the district dealt with the potential threat well. She didn't mind not being called, and said she has faith in the district.
"Even though I didn't really get communication about this I still got what's important about her classroom or her class."
Officials in Jackson County earlier in the week increased patrols following a threat about a potential shooting at Springport Community Schools. MLive.com reports a 17-year-old student was arrested and charged with making a false report or threat of terrorism.
Larry Johnson, the assistant superintendent at Grand Rapids Public Schools, is also the president of the National Association for School Safety and Law Enforcement Officials. He said schools really have to take every threat seriously, especially now.
"I think that school safety security has been put back in the forefront of administrators who have maybe become just a little lax in taking care of what they need to take care of," he said. "I think we're doing the right
thing. I think school administrators are doing the right thing but looking very intently at threats."
Johnson advocates getting law enforcement involved as soon as possible, and said historically after national school tragedies threats to schools go up. That means while they have to be taken seriously they also have to be vetted appropriately.
"I think to shut down completely because of the veiled threats, I don't think that's the road we want to travel down because young people will continue to disrupt schools," he said. "But I'm not going to criticize any district for making the decision to shut down as long as they've evaluated and assessed that threat throughout."
Monroe Public Schools, about 35 miles southwest of Detroit, says on its website that classes are off Friday. The district says no reports have been substantiated but "anxiety and disruptions" are leading to concerns about a big drop in student attendance.
District officials say they have welcomed an increase of law enforcement officials in and around school buildings throughout the week as a precaution.
Schools in Genesee and Lapeer counties, north of Detroit, started the Christmas break Wednesday night rather than hold classes Thursday and Friday. The decision affected thousands of students.
Genesee County school officials said in a statement that the fatal shooting at a Connecticut elementary school last week "changed all of us." Lapeer Community Schools Superintendent Matt Wandrie said all the rumors have become a major distraction for students and staff and have disrupted learning.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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