Seneca Valley High School’s principal and Montgomery County police are urging students to exercise restraint on social media following an increase in fights at the school and lockdowns due to possible threats.
During an online forum with police and school leaders Thursday night, Principal Marc Cohen talked about incidents that have occurred in the past few weeks.
In one case, he said, a physical education teacher thought he heard gunshots. All students were kept in the building and the school was put on lockdown, he said. The school was found to be safe and resumed its normal schedule, he said.
During last Friday’s football game at Seneca Valley, multiple fights broke out on the concourse by the concession stand, Cohen said. Police were called in to remove those who were fighting, and the game was called off in the third quarter.
In a letter to community members on Saturday, the day after the fight at the football game, Cohen wrote that more police, administrators, counselors and other support staff would be at the school beginning Monday to address the increase in fighting.
The school has changed the start time of its game against Damascus High on Oct. 29 to 3:30 p.m. — three hours earlier than originally scheduled.
Cohen said he thinks a small number of students are behind an increase in fights, but other students are sometimes “circling” around the fights and filming them.
“These fights should not be looked at as clickbait for social media. They’re acts of violence,” he said.
Cohen said there were two incidents Wednesday, one of which involved a screen shot of a text message “threatening violence in the cafeteria.” Police were notified and began investigating to determine its origin.
The second incident occurred after lunch on Wednesday, Cohen said.
“We received a call over the radio for noises off campus and that once again sounded like gunshots in the community,” he said.
Police helped as the school sheltered in place, Cohen said. Dismissal occurred “orderly and on-time,” he said.
Montgomery County police 5th District Commander Edward Pallas, whose district includes the Germantown school, said that in the last couple of weeks, crimes have occurred around the school, but they were not school-related.
In one case, shots were fired off campus and one person was arrested, Pallas said. He does not think the shooting was gang-related or tied to the school.
There have also been fights “in close proximity to the school,” but students were not involved, he said.
Pallas said students sometimes make false threats on social media from fake accounts to shut down the school or get out of a class — “the equivalent of pulling the fire alarm.”
“For every one of those investigations, that takes many, many person hours to track down and do the subpoenas,” he said.
Pallas said a small percentage of students are behind the threats. He urged parents to talk with their children about the consequences of social media use.
Cohen also called on students during Thursday’s meeting to do their part in making the school safer by using the front entrance to the school on Crystal Rock Drive, as they are supposed to do.
Students violate school rules by going off campus during lunch to get food, and have meal deliveries brought to the school, he said.
“The challenge that we’ve been facing with our students this year is they are choosing to violate the safety of our peers by propping doors open and letting people in,” he said.
Additionally, some students let strangers in because they “want to be nice,” but those strangers could pose a risk, Cohen said.
“We’re not a police state. We do not plan on making Seneca Valley a police state by placing guards at every corner,” he said. “But I do expect our students, and I also expect our families, [to] work together to avoid some of the visitors … entering the building illegally.”
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org