ZEPHYRHILLS — About 70 percent of students stayed home and police patrols increased at Zephyrhills High on Thursday after rumors spread on social media about a possible shooting planned at the school, authorities said.
“The rumors were proved to be untrue,” said Linda Cobbe, spokeswoman for the Pasco County School District.
By the time that was determined, though, the damage was done and just 400 of the school’s 1,465 students showed up for classes.
“It’s very disruptive when 1,000 kids aren’t getting an education,” Cobbe said.
Before the school day began, law enforcement officials visited the homes of two students whose names came up as possible shooters, but determined that the “threat level was non-existent,” Cobbe said. Still, those students were told to stay home from school Thursday.
Now the Zephyrhills Police Department and the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office are trying to determine who started the rumors, which began spreading Wednesday, and said criminal charges are likely if the culprits are caught.
“The school was trying to knock down rumors all day (Wednesday), or at least part of the day,” Cobbe said.
Although law enforcement officials found nothing to substantiate the threat, they beefed up security at the school.
“The rumor of this threat has been social media driven, causing widespread concern,” Zephyrhills Police said in a press release. “Safety precautions were taken by ZHS and ZPD personnel to ensure the safety of students and staff.”
Student Twitter feeds Wednesday night were filled with comments about fears of going to school. “Even if it’s a ‘rumor’ I’m not going,” one student wrote.
Meanwhile, the school district itself took to social media, such as Facebook, to try to combat the rumors and let parents and students know that there was “no risk of danger, but in an abundance of caution, there will be additional patrols at the school today.”
“One of the things that concerns us is we’ve embraced social media, but kids need to take responsibility when using it,” Cobbe said.
With that in mind, the district is working on a curriculum for teaching digital citizenship, she said, but that won’t be ready until the 2014-15 school year.