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Massena Central superintendent says no truth to rumors of threats

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MASSENA - The Massena Central School District fielded several calls on Thursday from parents who were concerned after hearing rumors of threats in the district.

But that’s exactly what they were - rumors, according to Superintendent Roger B. Clough II.

“We don’t have any substantiated concrete evidence of anything,” he said.

If they received any information, such as names or places, “we’re going to look a it,” he said.

Mr. Clough is using avenues such as letters, emails, the district’s website and the media to let parents and the community know that there’s no truth to the rumors.

“I’ve had parents call. I tell them to rest assured we’re doing everything possible,” he said. “I made a statement, I did emails. I just wanted to make sure that parents knew that their children are safe. I don’t want the community of Massena to become paralyzed with fear and rumors.” School safety came to the forefront after last week’s deadly school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which 20 students and six adults were killed. Following that incident, Mr. Clough posted a notice on the district’s website to allay fears among community members.

“In speaking with fellow superintendents, I have learned that the Sandy Hook tragedy has created a heightened sense of apprehension and anxiety about their schools and school safety. The result has been fearful parents unwilling to send their children to school, students wondering about their safety, and rumors racing through faculty, students and communities of a possible similar event in their schools,” he wrote.

“I do not want our Massena community and schools to become paralyzed with fear and rumor. At the same time, I am unwilling to compromise the safety of our students and staff,” he noted.

Mr. Clough said that he and School Safety Committee Chairman Richard Norris with local police representatives on Tuesday. He said Massena Police Chief Timmy J. Currier, New York State Police BCI Senior Investigator Judy Trimboli and Massena Police DARE Officer Chris Flynn “offered their advice to help us address safety concerns and to lay out a plan to immediately investigate any rumors.”

As part of that conversation, the group agreed that local police, who already routinely visit each elementary and secondary school, would increase the frequency of their walk-throughs of the district’s buildings.

They also agreed that village and state police would immediately investigate all rumors of potential problems.

“It wasn’t uncommon anyway for the police to walk through. We just asked for more of a presence,” Mr. Clough said. “Chief Currier and I have been talking on a daily basis. We’ve been very fortunate with the chief. He’s been very supportive.”

In his letter on the district’s website, the superintendent asked that people not repeat rumors.

“A simple conversation about a student having a bad day can suddenly become a school-wide rumor that someone is planning school violence. Instead, bring that rumor directly to the school principal,” he wrote.

Since then, however, the rumors have continued to escalate, prompting another letter being posted to the district’s website on Thursday.

“As most school and law enforcement officials anticipated, rumors of potential school violence are widespread following the Sandy Hook tragedy. Sadly, our own district has been victim of at least two such rumors,” Mr. Clough wrote.

“I want to assure our students, staff and community that we take rumors of violence in our school very seriously. At the first hint of a rumor, the school administration (Superintendent, principals, directors), and the local and state police immediately investigate. If they uncover anything that suggests a rumor may be credible, we will immediately take the appropriate steps as outlined in our safety plan (shelter-in-place, lockdown or evacuation),” he wrote.

Should law enforcement officials find the rumors to be unsubstantiated, “we will continue our day without interruption. The police will also investigate to determine who has spread the rumor,” Mr. Clough noted.

The district practices emergency drills for different scenarios on a regular basis at all of the schools, and more frequent visits by police officers will bolster their efforts, he said.

“We wanted to have some presence here and try to keep it as normal as possible for our kids and our schools. We’re doing everything we can. Our teachers are very well-trained,” he said.

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