Merced school leaders and police issued a joint statement late Wednesday in an effort to ensure parents that children are safe at school despite recent social media chatter that has continued to spark fear of erroneous threats.
One of those misunderstandings arose at Hoover Middle School on Wednesday while a student was speaking about baseless rumors shared about two local high schools over the past two days, officials said.
"This was the result of miscommunications between a student who overheard parts of a conversation," Merced Police Lt. Jay Struble said in a statement. "It was relayed to parents out of context."
Struble said an officer interviewed all of the students involved and determined there was no threat and that the student body was safe. "As a parent, I understand the desire to keep your children protected," Struble said. "The Merced Police Department and the school districts are working hand-in-hand to keep students and staff safe and out of harm's way."
The Merced City School District, which includes a number of elementary and middle schools, prepared an "Ed Connect" call to send out Wednesday evening to reassure families and staff that there have been no threats against any of the district's campuses. Anyone who sees or hears anything suspicious should report it, district officials said.
Student safety is the district's top priority, according to Sara Sandrik, the district's public information officer.
"The Merced City School District has taken several steps to increase security in recent years, including the addition of surveillance cameras and upgraded fencing," she said in a statement. "We also have newly updated safety plans that are specific to each site, and we have a close relationship with local law enforcement agencies in addition to the school resource officers who are assigned to our middle schools."
Unfounded rumors have been a problem at a number of area high schools, though other real threats have led to arrests at campuses in Merced County.
School districts, parents and students in Merced County have been "hypersensitive" when it comes to school safety, potential threats, warning signs and reporting since the Florida school shooting of last month, said Steve Tietjen, the Merced County superintendent of schools.
Three separate alleged threats to El Capitan and Golden Valley high schools on Tuesday were mischaracterized on social media, according to an emailed statement from the Merced Union High School District.
School officials sent messages Tuesday and Wednesday morning that the threats were investigated at the Merced high schools and found they weren't credible. The discussion of those threats Wednesday led to the investigation of another threat that occurred months ago at Atwater High School, according to the Merced Union High School District.