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Numerous students stay away from school Friday

The Medford School District's four secondary schools saw significant drops in student attendance Friday following a week of Internet-fueled rumors of potential violence on Dec. 21.

Nearly 60 percent of North Medford High School's 1,677-student body, and nearly 49 percent of South Medford's 1,767 students, were no-shows.

"I really do have to think that the fear generated by the rumors did impact them," Superintendent Phil Long said. "That is a significant absenteeism rate."

Hedrick and McLoughlin middle schools also took hits, with 23 percent of Hedrick's 946 students and 43 percent of McLoughlin's 834 students reporting absent.

The last day before holiday break typically sees fewer students in the classroom, but 2012's numbers were significantly higher when compared to previous years, Long said. In 2011, both high schools reported an absentee rate of a little more than 11 percent.

There was no change to the absentee policy on Friday. If students did not show up and did not have parental consent, they were marked absent.

The slew of rumors about potential violence at public schools on the last day of the Mayan calendar exploded nationwide on social-networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter this past week.

The rumors were fueled by the shooting deaths of 20 elementary school children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14 and wild speculation that the last day of the Mayan calendar would mean the end of the world.

The Associated Press reported Friday that three Oregon school districts closed for the day at least in part because of the rumors. District closures were reported for Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson counties.

Locally, police investigated numerous rumors but found no substantiated threats. Medford police offered up extra patrols as a precaution, and school staff reviewed safety procedures. No incidents were reported throughout the day, school officials said.

"Schools up and running in Medford. People seem to appreciate the increased police presence, although some are stopping and making sure it's all precautionary," South Medford High School Resource Officer Mike Jackson posted on his Facebook page Friday morning.

A letter to parents posted on the South Medford High School website reported a student had brought an Airsoft gun, which fires plastic BBs, to school Wednesday. Following a tip, the weapon was confiscated by police, and the student was suspended, pending possible expulsion. Police and school staff believe the student did not have the intent to harm others.

"There's no good time for something like that, but this week especially," said South Medford Principal Kevin Campbell.

He added he was pleased at how the day went.

"School is still one of the safest places kids can be," Campbell said. "I'd much rather have a kid in school than have them outside of school."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at rpfeil@mailtribune.com.