HOUSTON (CN) – Houston-area police are on edge amid arrests of several students who threatened campus violence in the social media-fueled fallout from last week’s Florida shootings, and one superintendent said his students will be punished for walking out of class to protest gun laws.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a news conference Wednesday that his department has investigated seven local threats of school violence since a man opened fire with an AR-15 assault rifle at a high school in Parkland, Fla. on Valentine’s Day, leaving 17 people dead.
Acevedo said one of the latest was made Wednesday morning by a 12-year-old who threatened to shoot up a southwest Houston charter school with an AR-15 rifle.
Fort Bend County in particular, part of Greater Houston, is dealing with a spike in student threats. Four students there have been arrested over the past week, all charged with making terroristic threats.
The Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office said one of them was a junior high student in Needville, 50 miles southwest of Houston, who posted a photo of a shotgun on Snapchat with the message, “Dont come to skoo tm @needvill (sic).”
“A fellow student also heard him state ‘I’m not scared; I’m planning on doing this,’” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
Though the Florida shootings have spurred students across the country to walk out of class this week in protest of the country’s epidemic of gun violence at schools, Needville ISD Superintendent Curtis Rhodes said Tuesday he will not tolerate such activism in his district.
“Life is all about choices and every choice has a consequence whether it be positive or negative. We will discipline no matter if it is one, fifty, or five hundred students involved. All will be suspended for 3 days and parent notes will not alleviate the discipline,” Rhodes wrote in a letter posted on social media sites.
Rhodes added that a “disruption of the school will not be tolerated.”
“A school is a place to learn and grow educationally, emotionally and morally,” he wrote.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas slammed Rhodes’ position Wednesday night on Twitter, saying the U.S. Constitution protects students “when they speak or express political or social views in school, so long as their speech is not disruptive.”
“Needville administrators can’t censor political speech they might find distasteful, nor can they punish students more harshly for missing school to take part in a political protest than they would for any other unexcused absence,” the civil rights group said. “Moments like this one create important opportunities for students to learn about civic engagement, and schools should support them—not punish them—as they use their political voices.”
Meanwhile, Sheldon Independent School District, one of 18 public school districts in Greater Houston, said Thursday morning that in reaction to a perceived threat made on social media, officials at C.E. King High School had placed the school in shelter-in-place mode so local police and school employees could do a compliance check.
“The purpose of a compliance check is for school personnel to check backpacks, purses, lockers, etc. looking for any prohibitive and/or suspicious items,” Sheldon ISD said in a statement. “The result of this morning’s compliance check found no suspicious items, and it was completed at approximately 10:20 a.m. However, the school (as well as the district) will continue to closely monitor any suspicious activity.” (Parentheses in original.)
The district did not immediately return a phone message Thursday afternoon seeking information about the threat.
The day after the Florida shootings, a 17-year-old was arrested when he brought a handgun to a southeast Houston charter school, and police responded to a hoax 911 call that a teacher had been shot at a public school in northwest Houston, the Houston Chronicle reported.
A school district in northeast Houston also canceled a pep rally set for Feb. 16 amid rumors on social media that the rally would be targeted. School officials told local media there were no threats, but it had rescheduled the event.