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Valley schools unscathed by TikTok rumors

The Jackson County District Attorney’s office used the Tik Tok story last week to issue a letter to the community, saying all threats of school violence are “thoroughly investigated and prosecuted.” AP file photo
Medford, Central Point, Eagle Point districts saw no credible threats of mass school violence emanating from the social media site Dec. 17

Dec. 17 came and went and Jackson County prosecutors did not charge anyone with threatening any school with mass violence on that day.

Ruby Herriott, Jackson County deputy district attorney, informed the Mail Tribune of that fact Monday, just days after it was rumored threats of students carrying out violence at schools Dec. 17 were originating and spreading on the social media site TikTok.

“It is a great relief that no threats of violence stemmed from the TikTok video in our community,” Herriott wrote in an email to the newspaper.

In a tweet Friday, TikTok noted that it had “exhaustively searched” for the threatening content and found nothing — merely others “discussing this rumor warning (people) to stay safe.”

Herriott’s office used the TikTok story to issue a letter to the community, saying all threats of school violence are “thoroughly investigated and prosecuted.”

“They are not an appropriate way to vent frustration and anger, nor are they a way to get an extra day off of school,” the letter stated. “Schools are a place where our children, parents and school staff should have confidence they are safe.”

In Oregon, a threat of school violence is considered disorderly conduct in the first degree, a class A misdemeanor. If a juvenile — typically the instigator in these cases — is convicted, he or she could spend a maximum of one year in a correctional facility.

Herriott expanded on why her office issued a letter.

“It was just a good time to put that information out there, in the hope that people who don’t realize that that’s a crime to make those threats — even though they are false — can understand that,” she said.

Herriott went on to say that the notion of school threats is not something exclusive to Dec. 17.

“We do see school threats throughout the year that come into our office to prosecute,” she said, noting that last week alone, her office took up charges on two local school threats.

According to the district’s online calendar, Medford schools — with the exception of Central Medford High School — had marked Dec. 17 as a day off.

Medford School District spokeswoman Leah Thompson, did, however, weigh in on Monday, saying officials in her office were aware of the TikTok story, but “there were no credible threats for us to take any further action.”

For other Rogue Valley school districts, including Central Point and Eagle Point, Friday was the last day of regular instruction before winter break.

Eagle Point Superintendent Andy Kovach said in an internal communication to parents regarding the TikTok rumors that none of the district’s schools had been identified specifically. He noted that the district relies on “our partnership with parents and students to alert officials to any rumors of or suspected threats.“

It was decided, however, that after conversations with local law enforcement, there would be “extra presence around (Eagle Point) schools throughout the day,” Kovach stated.

Walt Davenport, superintendent of Central Point schools, said his district was “very aware” of the threats, closely monitoring social media and consulting the local police the night before and morning of Dec. 17.

“We decided not to notify parents based on the lack of any concrete threats,” Davenport wrote in an email. “Our police and administration are also considerate about amplifying this type of behavior on social media platforms like TikTok as it sometimes leads to increases in this behavior or copycats.”

But when there are “concrete threats,” Central Point schools would notify its constituents, as it did more than a week ago, when a Crater High School student was arrested for disorderly conduct I.

Joe Zavala, a spokesperson for the Phoenix-Talent School District, said district personnel were notified of the TikTok rumors. Out of an abundance of caution, the district sent its school resource officer at Phoenix High School to check on Talent Middle School during the day.

“Nothing came of it, of course,” Zavala wrote in a text to the newspaper.

On Dec. 17, Phoenix High School had an assembly — the first since the pandemic began — and it “went off without a hitch,” he wrote.

Herriott, a mother herself, said the information could prove to be a good starting point for parents to sit down with their children.

“Hopefully, parents can have conversations with their children to really educate them, (by saying), ‘Look, this isn’t OK even to make an empty promise,’” she said.

In an internal message to his constituents, Kovach echoed the Jackson County prosecutor’s comments on the importance of parents talking to their kids.

“Please take this time to talk with your children about the importance of saying something to you or a staff member if they hear anything that concerns them,” he stated. “We will thoroughly investigate everything that comes to our attention to ensure the safety of our students. As always, the reporting source has the option to remain anonymous, if they prefer.”

Davenport addressed what can be done to prevent violence or threats in schools, saying it will take the whole community working together.

“Parents need to be more aware of what is happening in their children's social media feeds and students themselves reporting concerning posts or statements by others,” he wrote.

Davenport agrees with other district officials that parents need to have a conversation about the seriousness of posting a threat online.

“There is nothing funny or playful about these posts and even if you don't create them, amplifying the message can be just as harmful and spread fear,” he wrote.

Tips regarding any threats or suspicious activity can be reported anonymously to the SafeOregon tip line at 844-472-3367, which accepts texts or calls, or email tip@safeoregon.com.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.