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Despite threats, Bethel Park School District to reopen Friday, Monday

Natasha Lindstrom
| Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, 12:15 p.m.

Students in Bethel Park School District — which canceled all classes at its eight campuses Thursday after several violent threats — should expect to be back in school Friday and Monday, district officials said.

Police do not believe the threats are credible, district spokeswoman Vicki Flotta said.

The district decided to close schools Thursday anyway to alleviate anxiety after learning that many parents planned to keep their children at home. Flotta noted that many families have a “heightened sense” of security risks “in light of all of the tragic things that have recently happened around the country and in the world.”

“While we don't believe that any of those threats were credible,” she continued, “we felt that our parents and our students were probably a little anxious, and we anticipated a high level of absenteeism today (Thursday).”

Late last month, school officials found two separate written messages at Bethel Park High School threatening violence today (Oct. 12) and Monday (Oct. 16). Officials would not say precisely where the threats were found or what they said.

In response, the district began to put a security plan in place on Monday that included an increased police presence and asking students not to bring backpacks to campus.

District officials had planned to keep schools open despite the threats up until late Wednesday — when the “rumor mill started churning” and police cited more threats circulating via social media, Flotta said.

“We were made aware late last evening (Wednesday) that there were some additional threats that the police, again, did not deem credible,” Flotta said Thursday morning, “however, social media was just going crazy, and we thought it made sense just not to have school today so everybody can feel safe.”

Bethel Park police declined to comment, referring all requests to the school district. The district of about 4,200 students in Pittsburgh's South Hills has one high school, five elementary schools and two middle schools.

False threats about a bomb, gun and other weapons and violence have been an intermittent problem for districts across Western Pennsylvania.

School officials say that often they suspect students make empty threats to get a day off school.

Last month, Penn Hills School District board President Erin Vecchio got so fed up with a spate of threats that spurred school lockdowns and closures in her district that she called on her administration to prosecute individuals responsible for threats that turn out to be hoaxes “to the fullest extent of the law” — meaning filing criminal charges that can carry up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The disruption in Bethel Park could force the school district to extend the school year should their three built-in snow days not be enough to account for the lost class time.

“We're going to have to make this day up,” Flotta said.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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