The threat of social media at school raises safety concerns for teachers

(WHTM) – A 14-year-old boy is facing charges after police say he posted an online threat aimed at the Waynesboro area school district. Waynesboro schools closed on June 1 because of the threat, and the incident has some Midstate educators on edge.

The threat came just a week after the massacre in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were killed.

“It weighs on us as teachers,” said Rachael Curry, math teacher at Red Lion High School.

Already nervous, Curry said the social media threat to the Waynesboro area school district wasn’t helping.

“Waynesboro is awfully close to home, it’s in our area,” she said.

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Curry was not teaching in the Red Lion Area school district in 2003 when a teenager opened fire in the middle school cafeteria, killing a principal before turning the gun on himself. However, many of his colleagues remember him.

“It still raises a lot of things,” she said.

Over his 23-year career, Curry has seen the threat of active shooters grow.

“When I started teaching, we didn’t do drills for that stuff, we did fire drills and sometimes tornado drill,” she said.

She has also seen threats and conversations about planned violence move online

“They no longer transmit a physical note that can be intercepted,” she said. “It makes it much more difficult to follow up”

On June 2, Waynesboro police identified the 14-year-old boy as the person who created a fake account and posted the threat against the district. Curry said when people are so young, it can be easy for teachers to blame themselves.

“You say to yourself, what did we miss, how could we miss this?” she says.

Chris Lilienthal, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), a major teachers’ union in the state, said the threat of active shooter situations is impacting teachers’ mental health, as well as that of their students.

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“Having on top of that the added stress of worrying about school safety and worrying about the risk or potential of a school shooting, that has a huge impact on mental health,” did he declare.

Lilienthal said PSEA is trying to keep schools safe by pushing for increased funding for mental health.

“That means advocating for a state-level school budget that will ensure we can invest in hiring school counselors, school nurses, school psychologists,” he said.

For Curry, mental health is a big part of the solution, and she said it’s everyone’s responsibility. She said COVID has made it difficult, but she hopes more adults can engage with young people about mental health.

“We need to work to be more of a community and pay attention to mental health,” she said.

Curry also said that conversation was on everyone’s mind because of the massacre in Texas, but she fears the attention will fade as the kids head home for summer vacation. She said she wanted to continue talking about it when the students return in the fall.

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