By Douglas Moser
---- — METHUEN — The superintendent of schools announced tougher enforcement of cell phone use in school in response to rumors last week that spread quickly by students sending text messages and posting on Facebook.
Superintendent Judith Scannell said high school students were told Monday during an assembly for 10th through 12th graders called to discuss last week’s deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and to address rumors that surfaced and raced across social media sites about possible violence following a junior’s arrest earlier this month.
“Normally, we say to the kids if we see you with a phone, put it in your pocket. We’re not going to take it away,” she told the City Council. “But we really had to ramp it up and say if we see the phones, they’re ours now.”
Scannell did not respond to emails this week requesting an interview and more details about the new policy.
Student Jacob Butze-Maille, 17, was arrested after he allegedly told another student he would carry out a “Columbine” style attack.
“Social media right now is out of control with our high school students as far as texting information and posting on Facebook,” Scannell said. “Ninety percent of the information is incorrect, so we had a scare at the end of last week.”
Each school held assemblies Monday to talk about the Newtown shooting, Scannell said. The high school’s assemblies also focused on social media and the new expectations administrators will have for students and their smartphones.
“We really spent a lot of time talking about social media, how to be careful and the need to speak to a teacher or an administrator in the building,” Scannell said.
High School Principal James Giuca said the assemblies went well, and administrators also talked about school security.
“The messages were we all need to team as a school to make the school environment as safe as possible; that means no propped open doors, no texting and spreading threats of rumors. Communicate with school staff or parents immediately if you hear of a threat. Counselors were available, however few needed the support. Very smooth days, yesterday and today,” Giuca said Tuesday.
The assembly for ninth graders, who are temporarily housed at the former Central Elementary School on Ditson Place, and individual grade-level assemblies for fifth through eighth graders at the grammar schools, covered building security and reviewed emergency and lock down protocols.
Counselors and principals visited classrooms for kindergarteners, first, second, third and fourth graders to “take the pulse of the classroom” and talk individually to students with questions or fears, Scannell said.
Additional officers have been posted to the schools, supplementing each building’s full-time school resource officer, and patrols have been checking each building several times throughout the day, according to the daily police log.
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