MAHWAH, N.J. -- Mahwah Schools Supt. C. Lauren Schoen apologized to parents Saturday afternoon for the timing of an announcement the night before involving a 13-year-old boy who'd supposedly threatened to "shoot up" Ramapo Ridge Middle School. But she also said it was necessary.
"It is clear from the emails received that the communication sent out on Friday evening did not meet its intended purpose and for that we sincerely apologize," Schoen wrote.
"The timing of the email, late Friday, before a four-day weekend, was unfortunate but necessary to respond to increased rumor and inaccurate social media chatter regarding a potential school shooting at Ramapo Ridge," she added.
"There is no doubt that the incident in Florida has triggered intense concern and emotion and has put school security in the forefront," the superintendent wrote. "Over the last several weeks, social media chatter increased and the rumors spreading inaccurate information of an alleged school shooting on February 23rd resurfaced.
"It is for this reason that the District Administration and law enforcement felt compelled to notify the entire school community of the actions we were taking to minimize risk to our students and staff," the schools chief wrote.
"Unfortunately, the email you received last night omitted the significant fact that the District and the Police had been responsive and proactive on this matter from the onset," she added.
Enraged parents said that they were told for the first time Friday night that a 13-year-old Ramapo Ridge Middle School student had threatened to "shoot up" the school next Friday.
However, Daily Voice obtained and earlier Saturday published a copy of an Oct. 28 email sent to parents from Ramapo Ridge Principal Daniel Vander Molen ( see below ).
"It's not like no one knew," one official with direct knowledge of the situation said.
Schoen included the email in her message to parents several hours later.
"The email explains that after a thorough investigation by the District and the Mahwah Police Department that the rumors and alleged threat were unsubstantiated," she noted.
"It should be noted that the actions taken were part a collaborative effort between the District and Mahwah Police Department, whose investigators had communicated with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s office on this matter from the onset to ensure that all the appropriate legal steps were taken to safeguard our students and the school," Schoen wrote.
"At the time, given the lack of credibility of the threat, the communication was limited to the Ridge Community so as not to cause unwarranted concern," she added.
Mayor Bill Laforet issued his own statement on Saturday, saying that he's going to demand that police notify him and the Township Council of "any and all threats" to township schools and assign a uniformed, armed patrol officer at each school every day.
"This will result in additional police overtime costs being incurred, but so be it."
Laforet said he plans to seek a shared-services agreement to help cover the costs -- although either way that money still comes from township taxpayers.
Sources had told Daily Voice early Saturday that the threat was a rumor and has continued to be.
Several students were brought in with their parents to try and determine what the boy may have said to whom, they explained.
"Everybody denied hearing him say it," one source said. "Most of them said they heard it from someone else. No child spoken to said that they heard him say it face-to-face."
The eighth-grader also was found to have no access to weapons.
He also denied having made a threat to anyone.
He did have other issues, however, that counselors were dealing with, sources told Daily Voice.
Schoen confirmed this in her Saturday message:
"We can only say that the student involved was only recently placed on long-term suspension, and not because of the alleged threat, but in response to subsequent non-related concerns and issues that were reported by students.
"The district is offering assistance to help this student as we would any other member of the school community.
"We also need to understand that this individual has rights and given our statutory mandate to maintain student confidentiality, we can only release so much information. We would ask for your understanding and discretion and we need to be mindful of the actions taken so that we do not further escalate the situation."
School officials had received calls from anxious parents after the original email from Vander Molen.
This escalated after the Parkland massacre earlier this week, sources said.
As word began to spread among the middle schoolers, Schoen emailed parents Friday night.
The rumor had been thoroughly investigated, the boy was "removed" from school and there will be a massive police presence at Ramapo Ridge next Friday, she wrote.
The timing -- on a Friday night before a four-day school weekend -- angered parents.
Sources told Daily Voice that the boy was removed not so much because of the rumor but because he had other behavioral issues, which Schoen confirmed in her Saturday afternoon note.
Arrangements were made for him to have schooling outside of Ramapo Ridge, they said.
The boy cannot be identified because of his age, under New Jersey's juvenile justice statutes.
This protects a child from stigma that could worsen things -- and instead allows for the kind of close attention that can produce a law-abiding adult once he or she matures.
The laws bind authorities of any kind -- be it schools, police, courts or any other -- from disclosing the identity of a juvenile in trouble unless he or she has been "waived up" to adult status because of their age and the severity of the crime.
Dear Ramapo Ridge Families,
I have received some inquiries about a matter that we have already addressed. There is a rumor circulating that alleged that a student made a threat against our school. We received notification of this rumor on Thursday afternoon and notified the Mahwah Police Department promptly. This allegation was ultimately found to be unconfirmed.
We conducted our own internal investigation and the rumors are unsubstantiated. We encourage all students to speak to a trusted adult if they ever hear of any concerning information regarding the safety of themselves or others.
Please know that all appropriate measures have been taken to ensure the safety of all Ramapo Ridge students.
Daniel Vander Molen
Principal Ramapo Ridge Middle School
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