About half of Seattle’s Franklin High School educators and staff called in sick Thursday — forcing administrators to cancel classes — following an online social media threat that was later determined to be a hoax.
School was first canceled Wednesday morning, before students arrived, after threats of violence were reported. But staff was required to go in “despite the valid safety concern,” according to a statement from Franklin High union representatives, who are part of the Seattle Education Association.
That prompted more than half the staff to take Thursday off.
“The Franklin community needs time to process the events that happened on December 15,” said a statement from Franklin High union reps for the Seattle Education Association. “We the Franklin staff are using today, December 16, to both process our own stress and plan how to support student re-entry with a focus on mental health and student voices.”
Seattle police later determined the threat was a hoax, Seattle Public Schools spokesperson Tim Robinson said in an email. While the investigation was ongoing during the day Wednesday, Franklin High educators were told to stay in the school building. If they felt unsafe, “we were informed that using personal time was required to leave the building,” SEA’s statement said.
“The message was clear that it was more important to SPS that they can monitor the staff than it was to protect them, even when there are no students present in the building,” the union’s statement said. “Even if the threat was truly neutralized last night, more needed to be done for us to feel prepared to reenter the building.”
Of the 120 classified and certified staff, 61 called in sick Thursday, Robinson said.
If staff absentee rates remain the same or increase Friday, the school will again cancel classes, the district said. But Robinson said students should be prepared to go to school. The missed school days will be made up at the end of the year.
What happened Wednesday shows the “deficits” in Seattle Schools protocol, procedures and communication when threats of violence occur, union representatives said. They called the incident an opportunity for the district to provide more transparency on decision-making and to improve protocols when threats of violence are made.
Franklin High students are standing in solidarity with educators “who have used their sick leave as an action to protect and prioritize the collective mental and physical health of our school community,” a statement from the associated student body government said.
On Wednesday, “Educators were not given the same care and consideration as students and were required to go into the school building while there was an active shooting threat,” the student statement said. “This decision by the SPS district was unnecessary and disregards the safety of educators.”
Delano Cordoza, a senior at Franklin High and the student body vice president, said he saw the threat and notified administrators Wednesday morning before school started.
He said the threat indicated the incident could happen Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.
Natalya McConnell, sophomore class president at Franklin High, said she was about to leave for school Wednesday morning when the district announced classes were canceled.
“There are so many guns in the U.S. and they [a student] could easily get their hands on a gun and that scares me so much,” she said. “We saw in Michigan how that child got a gun from their parents and … that could become Franklin and I don’t want to see that happen.”
If teachers don’t feel safe at school then nobody is safe, McConnell said, and if the school district had prioritized the safety of staff, school cancellations could have been avoided.
Robinson, the SPS spokesperson, said Franklin “has experienced higher than normal absenteeism for much of the school year, and the district continues to face a shortage of substitute teachers. We are working to find solutions to both issues.”
Staff shortages closed schools in Seattle, Bellevue and Kent last month.
But McConnell sees it differently. “The reasons school was canceled isn’t because of staff shortages — it’s because the district disregarded the safety of educators,” McConnell said.
In a statement released Thursday, the King County Sheriff’s Office said it will remain “vigilant” in assessing social media comments about threats of violence to schools. The Sheriff’s Department is unaware of any credible threats to schools in the county.