BAYFIELD – Police deputies will be placed at Bayfield schools this week after officials learned of “generic gun comments” made in connection with the Mayan calendar.
The Bayfield Marshal's Office learned of the threats Wednesday, and parents were notified of the investigation on Friday – partly in response to a school shooting in Newtown, Conn., which left 27 people dead, including 20 children.
“We were going to communicate anyway,” said Superintendent Troy Zabel. “We were wanting to get more investigation possibly done, but that elevated our feeling of getting word out to parents because of stuff online.”
School officials have been vague about the nature of the threats. They called the threats “unsubstantiated.”
Bayfield Marshal Joe McIntyre said comments were made about the Mayan calender in addition to “a threat of a gun being brought to school.”
Friday marks the end of the Mayan calendar, and some conspiracy theorists have predicted cataclysmic events or even the end of the world.
Placing deputies at the schools helps raise awareness and reassures parents that safety is being provided.
“It's just a matter of caution,” said Wayne Walters,” who is dealing with public information matters on the incident. “There is no credible evidence that there has been any threat to the elementary, junior high or senior high schools.”
Students said they heard a school shooting was being planned.
As of 5:30 p.m. Monday, no arrests or school suspensions had occurred as a result of the threats, McIntyre said.
Jay Larson, who has four children in the Bayfield School District, said his children were visibly upset by the rumors Thursday.
“The kids were all concerned about it, so I had to sit them down and talk to them about being aware of their surroundings,” he said Monday outside the high school.
Several parents said they will keep their children home on Friday.
Stacey Belmear, parent of a daughter in the eighth grade, said the school district has been “incredibly vague” about the nature of the threats.
“Based on that, I'm like, 'Eh, (my daughter) doesn't need to be here.' And I imagine a lot of parents will do that. It's the last day of school (before winter break). It's just not worth it.”
Zabel said school and classes will be conducted as usual. But he said the school district will work with parents, and if they feel it is prudent to keep their children home Friday, that is their decision.
“I'm not waiving the day, but we will work with parents,” he said. “I think we're a flexible school district. We would encourage that they have kids there. We feel like we're working with law enforcement and have safety plans in place and feel like we've investigated this.”
More students were absent Monday than typical, he said.
In addition to placing deputies at the schools, the doors were locked to outsiders Monday at Bayfield Middle School, and students were moved between classes via different routes.
Bayfield High School planned to have finals on Friday, but they were moved to Wednesday and Thursday in response to the threats, said Principal Scott Story.
Several parents expressed frustration at the school district's lack of communication.
Starla Gettman said she checked the school district's website all day Monday, but no information was posted about the threats. Instead, she received bits of information on Facebook.
“I wish there was a little more communication,” she said. “It would be nice to have some kind of a meeting for any of us who want to help anyway we can. I definitely want more information.”
The Bayfield Marshal's Office and the school district held a joint news conference Monday night. Zabel said he planned to update the district's website Monday night, but no update had occurred as of 8 p.m.
Gettman questioned the timing of when the school district learned of the threats and when it notified teachers and parents. She heard the school district learned of the threats on Dec. 10 but didn't inform teachers until mid-week and didn't notify parents until Friday.
The letter sent to parents was vague.
“Over the last couple of days there have been reports of possible incidents at Bayfield schools that are planned for 12/21/2012, or as so dubbed 'End of the World Day,'” the letter read.
It went on to say: “We are currently working with law enforcement to follow any credible leads that we uncover in the investigation and add extra security measures as a precaution,” the letter says. “We will have more information available as our investigation continues. For now, we want everyone to understand we are working diligently to make certain all students and staff at Bayfield schools are safe.”
The threats in the school district adds stress to a community already feeling uneasy about the disappearance of 13-year-old Dylan Redwine, who has been missing since mid-November. Authorities are unsure if the boy was abducted or something else happened, but they suspect foul play.
Jarrett Cook, who has two children in the school district, said he was glad to see deputies at the schools Monday.
“The town's a little stressed,” he said. “I think the whole area is on heightened alert.”