It’s been a quite Friday the 13th. I figured it would be, but that’s not how the week was shaping up.
First there was the graffiti. Apparently some racially charged messages were left on the wall in a girl’s restroom at Byrnes High School over the weekend. The graffiti threatened violence, to be carried out on Friday the 13th. There were no leads, no clues as to who had written the message.
Then came the rumors and overreaction. Given news of recent school shootings, the atmosphere is tense regarding school safety. When news of the graffiti got out into the community, the school, district, and several local media outlets were bombarded with questions. Rumors were flying about guns being seen on campus, etc. etc.
Next, there was damage control (video link). Trying to stifle a rumor with the facts often comes off as a cover-up. The old, "What are they NOT telling us?" mentality. To that end, our district tried to be as transparent as possible with the investigation and in communicating with parents. I was called out of a meeting and back to the district office to put together a message for our Parent Notification System. Over 1700 households were called with a message that stated that we believed the graffiti to be a hoax, but that we were investigating it seriously, and that additional law enforcement and security would be available. Our superintendent, Scott Turner, actually appeared live in the WSPA studios to answer questions on the 6:00 news, and to reassure parents that their children would be safe.
During all of this, I was very impressed with Barry Reese’s handling of the situation, talking with reporter after reporter in a calm, measured voice. He told me later was that it’s much easier to be calm when you know that you’re doing the right thing, even if the general populace is confused and upset.
And so that brings us to today, which also happens to be the 45th day of school in our district. Normally we would take an attendance head count on this day to see how our enrollment has grown since the start of school. With nearly 40% of the student population out at Byrnes (about 800 kids), there was no way that could happen. I went to Zaxby’s for lunch, and was surrounded by students who otherwise would have been in class. It was interesting to eavesdrop on some of their conversations. It sounded like most were just using it as an excuse to get out of class.
Thankfully, things were very quite. Our phones didn’t light up like they did yesterday, and things seem to have settled down. It seems to me that anyone truly intent on harm would be foolish to act today with all of the attention and heightened security. It would be smarter to way until everyone thinks the danger is past. I, for one, am hoping that these idiots who wrote the graffiti aren’t that smart.