Derby school shifts to remote learning following threat written in bathroom

Photo via North Country Union Junior High School

A junior high school in Derby has shifted to remote learning for Friday after school officials found a threatening message written in a school bathroom, according to an announcement from the principal.

Nicole Corbett, principal of North Country Union Junior High School, told the school community Thursday evening that shifting to remote learning would allow Vermont State Police to continue an investigation into the message discovered Thursday afternoon.

In an email to VTDigger Thursday night, Superintendent John Castle said the threat was made “in faint pencil and very small.” He did not describe the nature of the threat.

“We were not able to determine if it was written today, two days ago or a week ago,” he wrote. 

In a separate press release, Vermont State Police said normal school operations had already concluded Thursday by the time they were alerted.

“No one has been arrested, and there are currently no criminal charges. … An increased police presence may be seen in the area of the school,” police said in the release.

State police spokesperson Adam Silverman did not immediately respond to an email Thursday evening.

The North Country decision comes as at least three other Vermont schools — Mount Abraham Union Middle/High School in Bristol, Hartford High School and Twinfield Union School in Plainfield — have recently endured violent threats after a school shooting in Michigan left four students dead. Following threats of gun violence at Mount Abe and a bomb threat at Hartford, many students chose to stay home on Dec. 10 and 13, respectively.

Meanwhile, the Vermont Agency of Education on Wednesday and Thursday said law enforcement officials had identified “no credible threats” associated with viral nationwide rumors of school violence circulating on the social media platform TikTok. 

TikTok posts spreading rumors of a planned school shooting Friday have gone viral nationwide, prompting concern in schools across the country. 

But in emails to school leaders around the state, Secretary of Education Dan French sought to reassure school districts. 

Law enforcement agencies were monitoring the situation, French said, but officials believed the rumors were simply rumors. 

“To date, the (Vermont Intelligence Center) is not aware of any credible threats to schools in Vermont,” French wrote. “We do anticipate these TikTok messages will make their way to schools in our state. As always, we encourage schools to contact their local law enforcement agencies if they receive any information about the potential violence.”

The Vermont Agency of Education provided screenshots of TikTok posts spreading rumors of a potential school shooting on Friday, Dec. 17. Screenshot courtesy of Vermont Agency of Education

In terms of the bathroom wall threat in Derby, “we cannot say that it is related to the TikTok threats or not,” Castle said. “It did not reference any specific date.”

It’s unclear where the TikTok rumors first originated, but they have been reported in several states around the country. Screenshots of sample TikTok posts from other states shared by French show TikTok users posting vague warnings of school shootings on Friday and encouraging students to stay home.

Some users noted that they were “not 100%” sure the rumors were true. 

Agency spokesperson Ted Fisher said in an interview that the Vermont Intelligence Center had identified such rumors spreading in Vermont. The emails to school districts, he said, were intended to preempt those. 

“We don’t want to spread additional anxiety, of course, but we want to make sure folks are aware that this is happening,” he said. 

As many students returned to full-time, in-person classes for the first time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Vermont schools have seen an increase in what school officials have referred to as student “dysregulation,” or difficulty returning to school-appropriate behavior.  

Robert Evans, the Agency of Education’s school safety liaison, said in an interview that such rumors exacerbate what’s already “a heightened state of anxiety and concern” around schools during the pandemic. 

“T​​he problem with some of this is if you don’t address it, the dialogue continues without the facts,” Evans said. 

On Thursday, French sent local school officials a list of talking points to send to community members. The list noted that “at this time there are no credible threats in Vermont,” and that social media rumors of threats in schools were “not an uncommon pattern” around the country. 

“We take these types of threats seriously, and each incident is evaluated and assessed to determine its level of credibility,” the agency said. 

Maggie Cassidy contributed reporting. 

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Peter D'Auria

About Peter

Peter D’Auria covers education for VTDigger. Prior to moving to Vermont, he worked for The Jersey Journal, The Chilkat Valley News and Willamette Week. He is originally from Portland, Oregon.

Email: [email protected]

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