Students return to class

testing begins

Rumors of violence led 250,000 in state to take Monday off from school

May 12, 1999|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Classrooms were full and cafeteria lines long again in Maryland schools yesterday, one day after rumors of violence and mayhem prompted some 250,000 students to play hooky.

The mass absences were triggered by predictions of May 10 shootings and bombings -- plus, some educators speculated, a beautiful spring day. The rumors, the latest in a string of classroom disruptions since classmates opened fire on students in Littleton, Colo., prompted state officials to put off the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program achievement tests for third- and eighth-graders by one day.

The testing began yesterday, said Ronald A. Peiffer, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, and none of Maryland's 24 school districts reported problems.

"I think we are probably over the hump with all of this," Peiffer said. "And I think [rumors] will begin now to trail off."

While most Baltimore County students were back in class yesterday, police arrested a 14-year-old boy and charged him with making a bomb threat to Golden Ring Middle School.

The boy, whose name was not released because of his age, called in a threat to the school at 8: 05 a.m., said police spokesman Bill Toohey. The school staff member who answered the phone helped police trace the call to a strip shopping center at Rossville Boulevard and Philadelphia Road across the street from the school.

A police officer sent there saw a boy walking near a pay phone and questioned him. The boy admitted making the threat and was released in the custody of his parents, Toohey said.

Toohey said Baltimore County investigators are trying to trace a message posted on The Sun's Web site bulletin board threating a bomb at Parkville High School April 26 as well as an e-mail that warned of the same thing at three county high schools -- Perry Hall, Loch Raven and Parkville.

"It is complicated, but we are making progress," Toohey said.

Toohey said extra police patrols will likely remain in schools until the last day of the semester -- June 11.

"I think we are staying vigilant about this," said county schools spokesman Charles Herndon. "We still have a little bit of increased police visibility in the schools, and we hope that some of the hysteria will spin itself out."

Herndon said he hopes a lesson can be learned from this.

"We can't be too careful, but we can't give in to it all, either," he said. "It's a tough call. I have been proud of our parents. We did have more absences [on Monday], but it was far less then in other counties, and I think that is a reflection of everything we have been doing in our schools to address this."

As the May 10 rumors escalated last week, educators and police beefed up school security. Some districts, including Howard County, unveiled plans to station police in high schools. A principal at a Montgomery County high school spent Sunday night in his school as part of weekend-long security plans.

But local and state law enforcement officials were mystified about the origins of rumors that some said began with a warning scrawled on the wall of a Montgomery County school or on the Internet.

"No one here, and we have been working with the police, has found the Internet sites people were talking about," said Howard County schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan.

Sun staff writer Dail Willis contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 5/12/99

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