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By Carol Stiffler

One or more students have been identified as responsible for the threat against Tahquamenon Area Schools last week, causing the school to entirely close for all of Thursday and Friday, December 9 and 10.

The threat was written in a girls’ bathroom that services students in grades 7-12, and was initially reported to a staff member just before 2 p.m. on Wednesday, December 8, according to the incident report filed by the Luce County Sheriff Department. Black writing scrawled on the stall wall indicated a threat to “shoot up the school” on December 9, 2021.

The student’s handwriting on the stall wall was matched to completed classwork. The student, who will not be identified due to age, has confessed, the report shows. The report also indicates the student may have been pressured by fellow classmates to write the threat to get school canceled. The incident report has been forwarded to the Luce County Prosecutor’s office.

The act has been determined to be a dare and a prank rather than a sincere threat, and the student(s) involved can expect to pay a serious penalty.

“There will be a disciplinary hearing in regards to that student or students, depending on how the report comes out,” Price said. According to the district’s discipline policy, any suspension beyond 10 days has to be determined by the school board. The board can determine the length of the suspension, Price said, which can be long-term or even expulsion.

“I would definitely say this student’s punishment will go beyond 10 days,” she said.

That message has been broadcast loud and clear throughout the upper grades of the school – grades five and higher – she said, to make sure everyone understands that a prank of this measure should never happen again.

The false threat came soon after the devastating shooting at Oxford High School in Oxford, Michigan on November 30. A troubling wave of threats sprinkled across the state after the Oxford shooting, including threats made against Sault Area High School and Munising. After warning signs and repeat intervention did not halt the Oxford shooting, the response to these later threats has been swift and decisive and has included legal prosecution.

In the moments after the threat was discovered in the TAS bathroom on December 8, students at Tahquamenon Area Schools had to shelter in place at school. This meant that classroom doors – always locked – remained closed and instruction continued. Teachers and staff used radios and cell phones to communicate, and students who needed to leave the classroom for any reason were escorted by an administrator.

School dismissed at the normal time, and administration had already canceled classes for the next day. Soon after dismissal, the district announced that classes would also be canceled on Friday.

When students returned to school on Monday, December 13, Price said they attended a meeting during their first hour class to discuss the events, answer student questions, and explain the penalty for any subsequent threats against the school. Counselors were available for any students who wanted to talk.

At least three law enforcement officers were present in the hallways.

“They wanted to have our student body understand the importance of what our last week was,” Price said. The officers also engaged with the students, which Price sees as a positive.

The threat and school closure came just 10 days before a long-scheduled active shooter training that the Luce County Sheriff Department has been planning at the school. Undersheriff Eric Gravelle began coordinating the practice drill months ago, and weeks ago set a date of Saturday, December 18.

On that morning, anyone near the school will see lights and sirens and a large amount of emergency vehicles, including ambulances. Command center will be staged at the Luce County Courthouse, with plenty of emergency vehicles there, too.

“People will probably see ambulances coming and going with people getting loaded into them,” Gravelle said. “It’s all going to be play acting.”

Law enforcement officers will enter the school and search its rooms as if there were a gunman inside. There won’t be an active shooter, or any shooting at all. But the event will hold even greater significance now, in the wake of the Oxford tragedy and the threat in Newberry.

“If for some reason this event does happen, we’ll be better prepared for it,” Gravelle said. “That’s kind of what we’re doing here. Preparing.”

In addition to preparedness, Gravelle stressed the importance of sharing information when something doesn’t seem right in the hope that the threat never materializes.

“There’s always warning signs,” Gravelle said. “If there’s something you don’t think is right, contact law enforcement, and we can go through. Or the school, or your boss. Let them know what you’ve heard, seen, suspect, and pass it on. It’s better to be investigated and found to be nothing, than not investigated and have it be something.”