Mass hysteria forces schools to shut down
Clown sightings and empty threats affect school function.
Mason High School and schools in the surrounding area have faced a series of threats in the past year.
Delaney Turner | Staff Writer
Clowning around is now a crime.
On September 9, Mason Football was scheduled to take on Moeller during the annual community tailgate event. Approximately 30 minutes prior to kickoff, Dwire Field was evacuated due to bomb threats. The game was cancelled and, later that evening, Colerain High School was evacuated due to threats from the same group.
On September 30, the Cincinnati area began to see an increase in a new kind of criminal. People dressed as clowns followed citizens to their homes. An early morning clown encounter caused Reading Community School District, just 30 minutes from Mason, to call off school.
Reading Superintendent Chuck Lafata said that it was a matter of student safety that led him to decide to close the high school.
“At 5 a.m. I received a call from the police saying a resident had been assaulted by a person with a clown mask on and the police did not catch him,” Lafata said. “I was concerned because all of our students either walk, ride their bikes, or drive to school (and) we do not have buses.”
Despite the unexpected day off, Reading’s homecoming football game and dance scheduled for that weekend were not affected by the threats.
Decisions like these result in the loss of crucial learning time. However, Mason’s Public Information Officer Tracey Carson said that too much is at stake for a potentially dangerous situation to be overlooked.
“While the vast majority of these threats are anonymous and turn out to be hoaxes, they have to be investigated and taken seriously,” Carson said. “This can mean that schools lose valuable learning time, police are wasting resources, children are frightened, and parents are alarmed.”
When situations like these occur, the district strategically releases information to the public to ensure a calm reaction. Carson said alerting community members over social media helps to avoid a frenzy.
“We immediately put out basic information on social media, and then followed up with more detailed information on our district social media channels, media releases, and emails to families,” Carson said.
Despite the recent hysteria, the district has trained for unusual events. Carson said that the district uses various methods of training.
“We have spent a great deal of time working with our law enforcement partners and members of our Safe and Inviting Schools team (which is made up of parents, teachers, administrators, law enforcement, and mental health professionals) to develop comprehensive emergency guidelines for managing threats,” Carson said. “These guidelines help us make data-based decisions focused on the facts of the actual threats.”
The district has also reached out to federal public safety organizations to aid in training.
“Last spring, the FBI conducted a joint table-top exercise with every district administrator and members of the Mason Police and Fire Departments,” Carson said.
The Mason Police Department has been working closely with Mason City Schools to be proactive. Officer Nate Ketterer works at Mason Intermediate as a resource officer. He said that the police department is prepared.
“We’re kept up to date with other schools and other cities, but we aren’t changing anything we’re doing,” Ketterer said. “We have plans in place for any situation that might occur whether it be a bomb threat or a threat that you’re seeing with the recent activity with the clowns.”
The school district and police department work diligently to ensure that the schools are safe at all times by collaborating with each other to discuss various methods of action.
“The police department also meets with the school every couple months and we’ve been doing this for years and we talk about safety, planning, current events, concerns in the school district, concerns in the local area and we keep a very open dialogue about what’s going on, so we can always be on top of situations,” Ketterer said.
Ketterer said that many people see situations and fail to report them, but he encourages any suspicious activity to be reported directly to the police department.
“If someone sees something, whether they know if it’s a threat or not they’re not sure, we encourage them to call 911 and have it reported so that we can investigate it,” Ketterer said.
Tracey Carson said that students can also utilize the SafeSchools Hotline if they feel uncomfortable with any actions.
“See something, say something,” Carson said. “That attitude is something that has become ingrained in our Mason DNA, and I have no doubt that people who have reported tips have made our school community a kinder, safer one.”