. . . and from Maryland scare

Rumor: May 10 absenteeism proved wisdom of postponing tests, but parents must act responsibly.

May 12, 1999

WITH THE effort of educators and public safety officials, Monday thankfully turned out to be routine for Maryland children who attended school. Vague Internet warnings about violence in the schools on May 10 were, as expected, a sick hoax.

After the school shootings in Littleton, Colo., people are understandably on edge. Across Maryland, a principal stayed overnight to patrol his school, parents volunteered as monitors, and police searched hallways with dogs.

Unfortunately, some parents took the loose rumors as sufficient reason to keep their children home, particularly from area high schools. Absenteeism in Baltimore County reached 40 percent. Sixty-two percent of students at Baltimore's Southwestern High stayed home, as did nearly 60 percent at Glen Burnie High in Anne Arundel County, where students two weeks ago were arrested after bomb parts were found in a home. Indeed, schools that had received bomb threats in the past generally had the emptiest classrooms Monday.

The State Department of Education's controversial decision to postpone the annual Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests for third and eighth grades until yesterday was validated. The department delayed the tests not because it feared certain violence, but because it couldn't predict how families would react. The exam postponement might have fueled some fears in and of itself, but Monday clearly was not a typical school day. Aside from the absenteeism, which would have skewed test results, teachers and students were anxious.

Investigators do not yet know the origin of the threat, but it should be no revelation that the Internet can be an unreliable gusher of speculation. Local school boards need to develop contingency plans should this happen again, and parents should resist interrupting their children's education-based on such sparse evidence.

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