Spurred by Skyline threat, absences jump 70 percent at other schools

September 25, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Student attendance in the Issaquah School District tumbled Sept. 20, and absences spiked by 70 percent, as police investigated a shooting threat against Skyline High School.

District administrators decided late Sept. 19 to close Skyline the next day in response to the online threat and keep other campuses open. Staffers and students at other schools felt the ripples early.

Districtwide, absences increased at 18 of 25 schools Sept. 20, although not every instance is attributable to the Skyline threat.

Officials tallied 1,158 students absent, up from 680 on a typical Thursday a week earlier, Sept. 13, according to a comparison of attendance data. The district serves about 17,000 students from Preston to Newcastle, and from Sammamish to Renton.

The largest increases in absences occurred at other Sammamish Plateau campuses not far from Skyline — Beaver Lake Middle, Pine Lake Middle, Creekside Elementary, Sunny Hills Elementary and Pacific Cascade Middle schools.

By the numbers

The online threat against Skyline High School prompted administrators to close school Sept. 20. Many students at nearby schools stayed home, too, and absences increased dramatically from a typical Thursday.

School Sept. 13 absences Sept. 20 absences Percent change
Beaver Lake Middle 25 105 320
Pine Lake Middle 44 137 204
Creekside Elementary 28 50 163
Sunny Hills Elementary 15 33 154
Pacific Cascade Middle 20 49 145

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Issaquah High School recorded the most absences overall — 203 students did not go to school. Compared to attendance data from a week earlier, absences there jumped 66 percent.

Liberty High School, 13 miles southwest of Skyline, experienced a 60 percent increase in absences from a week earlier. Overall, 155 Liberty students did not go to school.

“If there was ever a day when people were feeling uncomfortable about coming to school or safety was an issue, it certainly could have been today,” district spokeswoman Sara Niegowski said.

‘It scared all of us’

Early Sept. 20, administrators sent information to assuage parents about the threat, and noted “all schools have flexibility around absences during extraordinary circumstances.”

Though absences fluctuate from day to day at district campuses, the Skyline threat resonated among parents and students.

MORE COVERAGE

Skyline High School closes for day due to online shooting threat

Online scare, response unfurl on social media

Investigation yields no suspect in Skyline shooting threat

Skyline to reopen after shooting threat; Eastside Catholic to close for day

Investigation into Skyline threat continues as attendance drops elsewhere

Skyline High School to close over mass shooting threat

“I have no way to say there is a direct correlation, but I would strongly believe that it had to do with the disturbance at Skyline High School,” Niegowski said. “Even though there was no threat against, or we had no reason to believe, that any other school was in danger, I think that it got into people’s psyche. It scared them. It scared all of us.”

Skyline reopened Friday, with more police on campus, and opportunities for students and parents to meet counselors to discuss the incident. (Skyline has almost 2,000 students in ninth through 12th grades.)

Eastside Catholic High School — a parochial school less than a mile north of Skyline along 228th Avenue — closed Sept. 21 as a precautionary measure and so administrators could review security plans.

Cleveland-based school safety consultant Kenneth Trump said school administrators face a double-edged sword by closing school in response to a threat. (Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, is a longtime expert on school safety and has advised educators in Washington state.)

“How long do you keep school closed? That’s the very tricky part,” he said. “First of all, if you closed the school every time you received a threat, you’d be receiving a threat every day. At the same time, all threats have to be treated seriously and investigated. School and safety officials can’t summarily dismiss any single threat. The challenge is to strike a balance there.”

Trump said a school closure longer than a single day can cause parents’ belief in a district to wane.

“What happens after the first day is, parents will understand,” he continued. “But if you’re closed the second, third and fourth day, eventually parents lose confidence in their school and public safety officials, and start questioning whether they have control of the situation.”

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