TOP STORY>> School scare often chases off students
By Joan McCoy
Leader staff writer
While hit lists are not to be ignored, a former superintendent at McRae Schools says talk of a hit list that never really existed was the beginning of the decline in enrollment that led to that small school district consolidating with Beebe.
When the state legislature mandated that school districts with enrollments of fewer than 350 students must consolidate, McRae was already about 25 below that number.
Rosebud Superintendent Jeff Williams, who was superintendent at McRae four years ago when the hit list scare broke, says the district lost about 75 students who either transferred to Beebe or opted for home-schooling after the scare.
Additionally, the school district paid $8,000 to install a security fence around the campus that many patrons disliked because they said it made the school look like a prison.
Williams said school officials got the news about the hit list from the White County Sheriff’s Department which had received its information from the Morgan Nick Foundation.
The foundation received an unsigned letter from someone who overheard a conversation about a list that included students and one teacher, Williams said.
The sheriff’s investigation produced two junior high boys who admitted to having the conversation, but no list was ever found. No charges were filed because the author of the letter never came forward, Williams said.
The boys fit the profile of the boys from Columbine, he said. They were different from most of the other students. One wore a trench coat. Their hair was long and unkempt.
The school found out about the letter on a Tuesday, he said. School was dismissed for Wednesday and resumed on Thursday. Thursday night the school board called a town meeting to discuss what was going on.
“People were just panicking,” he said.
Some talked about the danger of drive-by shootings, where none really existed, at least no more so than before the call from the sheriff’s department about the letter to the Morgan Nick Foundation.
The students also attended school on Friday, but then they were out for spring break.
When they returned a week later, the security fence was in place and deputies with metal detectors barred the entrance.
“We checked everybody,” Williams said, “every kid, every teacher, every adult.”
A deputy stayed on the grounds for about two weeks, Williams said. After that, the school district bought its own hand-held metal detector and conducted random screenings. No weapons were ever found.
The two boys who caused the uproar left.
One was home schooled and the other was tutored at home for a time by a teacher who worked for the school district.
Was anyone ever in danger?
Williams says he doubts it. The two boys didn’t own guns or have access to guns owned by family members.
“They were just two junior high kids blowing off steam,” he said.