Text Message 'Miscommunication' Puts Three New Jersey Schools On Lockdown

from the all-that's-missing-is-the-ONLY-detail-that-matters dept

Today's dose of paranoia and confusion comes to us courtesy of RyanNerd. We've seen schools react badly to perceived threats before, but the lack of a single crucial detail makes it impossible to determine whether this incident is one of those cases. What we do know is that three New Jersey schools were locked down and swarmed by police officers as the result of a single text from a student to a parent.

According to the New York Daily News, the culprit was autocorrect.

A panicked mom called local police and sparked a three-hour lock down of South Plainfield High School in New Jersey, officials told The Daily News.

"It created a heck of a mess," Schools Superintedent Stephen Genco told The Daily News.

Genco did not disclose exactly what the text message said, but said it involved the kid's phone not working.

"Auto correct created a situation where it looked like it was something totally different," he said.
For three hours, students were kept in their classrooms while buildings, backpacks and lockers were searched by law enforcement. In at least one school, students were searched as well.

The district issued an all-clear at 1:30pm, three hours after the panic began. A statement was issued by the district, which failed to address the content of the text message, but gave a lot of credit to the district's lockdown drills.
As you know, today there was an incident that caused authorities to put the HS , Middle School and Grant into a lockdown situation. The police have concluded their investigation and have determined that there was no threat. Currently the police are concluding their procedures and have authorized the reopening of all three buildings. All procedures were followed and it was clear that the practice drills we hold in each of our schools assisted in readying the students and staff for this incident. Thank you for your patience and support.
Even the Borough of South Plainfield felt moved to issue a statement via its Facebook page.
South Plainfield High School, Middle School and Grant School were all on lockdown earlier today. There was a miscommunication from a student to parent that caused a call into the Borough's 911 center. Police were required to investigate and initiate lockdown procedures. It was a miscommunication. The reports of arrests are totally false. everyone is safe.
Throughout all this communication, everyone involved has taken great care to withhold the content of the text that kicked off the three-school lockdown.

Here's what can be ascertained from the smattering of facts dispersed across several articles.
1. A text was sent by a student to a parent.
2. This text was misinterpreted by the parent, either due to the student's own error or the unforced error of autocorrect.
3. The student's parent contacted the local police.
4. Police swarmed three schools, which were all placed on lockdown for three hours.
5. Nothing was discovered, no arrests were made and the all-clear was sounded.
One report contains this speculative statement from district superintendent Stephen Genco.
Genco said there were “several rumors,” including that someone was bringing a gun to the high school’s pep rally Friday.
So, why is this text being withheld? The school could make the argument that the involvement of a minor raises privacy issues and thus, the text's content must be withheld. But this conspicuous omission hardly seems to be policy-related. Superintendent Genco never broaches the subject of district policy which is normally the first card played during iffy situations like these. Someone's embarrassed about their reaction. Whether it's the parent, the local PD or the school district remains to be seen. Somehow a text about a malfunctioning phone resulted in a police sweep (with K9 units) and lockdown of three schools, but so far, none of the reassuring voices (school, PD, city officials) have come forward to show the public exactly what mistake was made and how it was interpreted as a potential threat. (Here's how it could have happened...) More questions than answers here, I'm afraid, and that makes it tough to gauge the appropriateness of this response.

Filed Under: miscommunication, new jersey, schools, threats


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2014 @ 4:12am

    This sort of thing is getting to be such a routine event that I hardly even notice any longer.

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