Social media threats prompt some parents to keep kids home from Ocala's West Port High School

FOX 35 News at 5 p.m.

- About 1,000 students were absent from West Port High School on Monday, because of social media threats, a school district spokesperson says.  The scare left quite a few frayed nerves among parents and some students.

“My son received a text from a classmate who told him there were six people in one of his classes that is normally full,” Parent, Danny Pedalino said Monday.

Rumors, or talk of threats against the school came to a head Monday, having snowballed on social media over the weekend. Kevin Christian, Spokesperson for Marion County Public Schools told FOX 35’s David Williams, “I understand it’s anything from a fight, to a campus shooting. That’s simply not credible, period.”

It stems from an incident here at the school Thursday, where Christian, said three students pulled out Confederate flags and began waving them during lunch. Another student got upset and punched one of them. Schools in Marion County were closed Friday for a no-student day, and online talk grew.

Christian explained, “Social media has allowed someone’s rumor, someone’s statement, someone’s threat to kind of grow into a humongous snowball if you will.”

Christian went on to add, “You have to keep in mind that social media gives everybody the platform to say anything they want, without any accountability whatsoever. That’s exactly what happened in this case.”

The social media rumors of threats prompted several parents to decide to keep their children home from school Monday.

“I am one of the parents keeping my child home from school due to the threat of violence,” parent Portia Torres told FOX 35.  Parent Debbie Smith said, “I opted to keep my daughter home for her safety and well being.”  Dawn Zuzio also decided to keep her child at home, saying,  “Over social media, I heard there was going to be a mass shooting.”

Ten uniformed Ocala Police officers were at the school Monday, plus Detectives talking to students who posted about the school in the last few days. Ocala Police tweeted Monday “No credible threat was made”

Zuzio still kept her child at home, and out of Westport classes Monday.  “I felt the best thing is to keep her home, so I know she’s safe.”

Zuzio’s daughter, Rose Lodati, who attends Wesport High School said “I feel safe honestly. I didn’t feel safe going [to school].”

Margery Bergers pulled her grandson out of school Monday, because of the threats that concern her. “Absolutely, and I don’t know what to do about it,” She said.

Some parents and students told FOX 35 they were not concerned. Other parents said they decided to send their child to school Monday morning.

Parent Angela Dirlam said, “I am on the other side of the spectrum and sent my child to school this morning well aware of the rumors that are being thrown around social media.  While I understand that many parents are afraid and keeping their children home today I feel that today of all days my child is safest at school.”

Dirlam went on to say “If we kept our daughter home every time we hear a rumor of possible trouble at the school then she would not have enough hours to graduate this year.” 

About a dozen parents emailed FOX 35 saying they were very upset they were not notified by the district.  “I am very upset that we haven't heard one word from the school regarding this,” said parent Erika Agosti. “I think the school failure to utilize the automated parent notification system  was an egregious error in judgment,” parent Denise Moore said.

The School district spokesperson said they understand that some parents are upset about not being notified.

“I understand that there are parents who are upset that they didn’t receive a phone call,” Christian said,  “but, had we deemed something credible, had law enforcement said ‘yes, we believe there’s a possibility this could happen,’ we absolutely would’ve  alerted people.”

If you kept your child out Monday because of this, the district said it will be an excused absence, and the student will be able to make up their work.

Christian adds that any kind of behavior that is threatening, disruptive, or disrespectful is not tolerated.

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