Hundreds of students absent from school in Danbury area after TikTok threat
When threats spread on TikTok last week about violence at schools across the country, many students decided to stay home.
Some school districts in the Danbury area saw absences rise last Friday due to non-credible warnings about violence that were shared on the popular social media app. Several area districts increased police presence at their schools, while some schools in the state and nation closed, although the threats didn’t originate locally.
Local superintendents said these threats made students anxious and disrupted education.
“Such social media postings are divisive and demonstratively disruptive for students, staff and families,” Brookfield Superintendent John Barile said in an email. “This type of despicable activity contributes to the erosion of trust in basic humanity and our community institutions.”
In Brookfield, the number of students absent increased by 321 percent from last Thursday to last Friday. There were 141 students absent on Thursday, compared to 594 students on Friday. There were 222
students absent the previous Friday, Dec. 10.
Barile attributed this “extreme” increase in absences to the threats.
In New Fairfield, 1,013 students were absent. That’s roughly half the district, with 2,132 students in the district in 2020-21, according to state data. New Fairfield High School saw 440 absences, the middle school had 280, Meeting House Hill School 149 and Consolidated School had 144. There were about 53 teachers absent, including for COVID reasons.
“Last week was very stressful,” Superintendent Pat Cosentino said in an email. “Students, parents and staff were nervous and scared, which is understandable. We had no credible threats and that is why we remained open.”
Bethel schools saw higher numbers of absences, too. Berry Elementary School had 19 percent of students out, Johnson Elementary School saw 21 percent of students out, Rockwell Elementary School reported 22 percent, Bethel High School had 26 percent and Bethel Middle School saw 31 percent.
The threats increased stressed in the schools, especially as students shared the messages on social media, Bethel Superintendent Christine Carver said.
“It’s not even the people making the threats,” she said. “It’s people that perpetuate it that are just as much as part of the problem. It actually kind of makes me angry.”
In her most recent newsletter, Carver urged parents to monitor their children’s social media, delay giving them a smartphone and to use parent control features on cell phones and tablets, among other advice.
“The big problem here is almost everything that happens starts on social media or starts in technology,” she said. “We can't control that, so it's really getting parents to partner with us.”
In Brookfield, the absences were starkest at the high school, where 325 students were out on Friday, a 364 percent increase from the day before and an 168.6 percent increase from the previous Friday. That was more than the number of students out district wide on Thursday and the previous Friday.
However, 15 fewer staff members in Brookfield were absent last Friday compared to the previous Friday.
“This is a credit to the dedication of our Brookfield's Best, the faculty, staff and administration that work tirelessly on behalf of the Brookfield Public Schools,” Barile said.
Friday’s threats followed similar incidents across the state and country that have appeared to ramp up since a Nov. 30 shooting that killed four students at a high school in Michigan. Students at Danbury High School were dismissed early on Dec. 3 due to noncredible threats and a false report of a shooting.
A 13-year-old Naugatuck boy was arrested last Friday in connection with the threats, while Danbury police arrested a juvenile over the threats that led to Danbury High School’s early dismissal.
Concerns about these threats led Newtown schools to go remote on the ninth anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting last Tuesday.
Newtown Superintendent Lorrie Rodrigue said she’s glad her schools switched to distance learning that day. On Friday, however, the district didn’t see a large drop in attendance, she said. The district hasn’t calculated the data yet.
“I’m not sure how you can measure that because you’ve got students out who are COVID contacts and a variety, a host of reasons,” she said.
Local police and security have been “phenomenal” in supporting the district to reduce anxiety from the threats, Rodrigue said.
“This is never easy,” she said. “It’s anxiety-producing and stressful. That being said, right before the holidays, we want to make sure that we can keep students safe and to mitigate as many distractions and disruptions as we can to their education.”
Barile was frustrated with the threats.
“Students, parents, staff and the public should not have to continue to endure these anxiety producing events,” he said. “The fear caused by these threats places an unsustainable stress on family and staff emotional health, along with undue pressure on law enforcement and the school system.”
“The responsible actors need to be identified and prosecuted for their responsibility in causing this nationwide school and local community disruption,” he added.