Rumors of school threat at Dells High School found to be not credible

December 14, 2018
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School District of Wisconsin Dells administrator Terry Slack gives a presentation to the Wisconsin Dells Common Council in August.

Wisconsin Dells school officials say an altercation between two students led to rumors of a safety threat at the school that are not credible.

Some parents kept their students home from Wisconsin Dells High School after information spread that one of the students allegedly threatened to “shoot up the school.”

School officials were made aware of an incident involving a verbal altercation between two students by school resource officer Chris Torkelson on Dec. 10. School officials determined the same night the incident did not involve a threat to the school, and social media posts by students attributing the comment to the student involved in the altercation were not based on facts.

“It was fairly quickly determined Monday night, and then reaffirmed Tuesday morning, that there was no viable threat to the student body, or any individual student for that matter,” said District Administrator Terry Slack. “In a real threat we’re moving on this a whole lot different, there would have been something out Monday night or certainly on Tuesday.”

Wisconsin Dells High School Principal Hugh Gaston said he met with the family of the student who was alleged to have made the threats Dec. 10, and interviewed students that witnessed the altercation the morning of Dec. 11.

“They witnessed an incident between two students who were not happy with each other, but (there was) never any conversation by the one student that he was going to come back to the school and do harm to the school, it was very specific to those two individuals and something they were working through,” Gaston said. “After talking to all of the students no one actually heard him say it, it was just assumed it was said. A student posted something on social media Monday night saying this was going to happen, but there was no basis for posting that.”

The school informed students of the incident Dec. 11 and sent a voice message and email to parents Dec. 12.

In the voice message, Gaston tells parents “We received information from law enforcement that a student had made a threat about harm to the school, and working in conjunction with law enforcement we investigated and determined that there… was wasn’t any danger to the school and there hadn’t ever been any threat to the school.”

The student in question has not been punished for any alleged threats and the students involved in the altercation have been disciplined using “the process for dealing with verbal altercations.”

While the investigation quickly determined the scope and credibility of the threat to the school and student body, Gaston said in hindsight “there are things in place that we need to review and learn from” in responding to incidents of this type.

“The investigation did what it was intended to do and that was successful, but my responsibility in communicating that… I didn’t follow through as well as I could have,” Gaston said. “We informed the students but should have done a better job of bringing the parents in on that.”

“We’re still balancing the rights of the student, (because) with each one of these situations there are idiosyncrasies involved regarding their rights, especially when we determined rather quickly that it hadn’t happened,” Gaston said. “So there is a balance of… keeping (families) informed, which they deserve to be, and protecting the individual who was accused of doing something.”

The School District of Wisconsin Dells currently has staff undergoing training in Wisconsin Rapids at a threat assessment team workshop. The training was scheduled several months ago.

“They’ll bring us back information that will help guide us and set down standard protocol and procedure for what to do in the event that we have something (happen) again, knowing that every situation has it’s unique characteristics and there may not be a standard response for everything,” Gaston said.

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