Hundreds of students absent

Friday, November 12th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Rumors that two girls with a hit list planned to take action Friday caused mass absences at Webster Middle School as parents kept their children home out of fear.

A list was found Wednesday and two girls removed from the school are awaiting a hearing on a long-term suspension.

Cynthia Reid, a spokesman for the Oklahoma City School District, said 380 of the 850 students in the middle school were absent

"Kids aren't learning today and that's disappointing," she said.

"There is a hypersensitivity to anything that has any ring or sound or anything like that incident," she said of the April shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., where two students killed 13 others before committing suicide.

But she said the Oklahoma City schools are safe and the district takes security seriously.

She said Webster Middle School, which is for sixth through eighth grades, is under heightened security through next week as a
precaution. The school already has metal detectors, closed circuit cameras and a police officer on duty. Extra police were on campus

Ms. Reid said the Oklahoma City School District tried to communicate Wednesday afternoon "that everything was OK, that
things were under control, but that was not successful."

"As time goes by, parents are going to have to rely on some level of communication with schools as to how safe they are," she

Ms. Reid said two rumors had been circulating at the school early in the week. One was of possible gang-related retaliation for
something that happened at a football game. The other was that a group of girls had a hit list.

Ms. Reid said the school did a complete locker search for weapons and brought in a dog to sniff out weapons and contraband
Wednesday. Extra administrators were brought in and the principal spent most of his time talking to students.

"He got to the bottom of both of those situations," she said. The rumor about gang-related retaliation was false and he found the
girls with the list, she said.

"From what we understand the girl was upset about an unrelated issue," Ms. Reid said. She said it was something personal outside of school.

Ms. Reid said there was nothing mapped out or planned, but there was a list that contained the names of students and teachers.

She said there was enough talk and the rumors circulated enough that it caused concern.

"I think we have to look reasonably on situations like this" and rely on principals and administrators for information on the safety of schools.

She said the district has long had metal detectors and taken other security precautions.

"We've been serious about security for a long time," she said.

Asked if the district sent notes home with students to let them know about the rumors and the findings, Ms. Reid said she believed
everything transpired so fast on Wednesday that they weren't in a position to do that.

"We don't want to be in a situation of creating panic," she said.

Students were out of school Thursday for parent-teacher conferences. Ms. Reid said she was sure that parents who came in for conferences were briefed.