Hi All

 

I want to take a moment to add some clarity to a television and social media fueled situation that is creating considerable rumors and concerns across the county. It seems that on Friday morning News 12 ran a story about "intimidating clowns" being spotted in Brentwood and North Babylon. This phenomenon, which has happened throughout the country during the past year, grows in myth and legend as social media plants a seed and the occasional "thrill seeker" chooses to live out the stories that the social sites are reporting. In this case, it appears as though Friday morning’s News 12 story was based upon a tweet sent by a Brentwood young lady who was driving and said that clowns approached her car and were disrupting traffic.  There was then a second unconfirmed electronic report of a sighting in North Babylon a little later that same evening. Social media quickly picked up on these two unconfirmed tweets and messages and before long details and additions to the stories were circulating the region and pouring into school districts and law enforcement agencies

 

Interestingly, the two most prevalent rumors were of false sightings to the police and closed or modified school days in buildings throughout the area. The police quickly told us on Friday that they had not confirmed any issues that the social media were reporting; however, that didn't stop the electronic rumors from spreading. The most prevalent school rumor consisted of students and parents in their own district emphatically claiming that a neighboring district had "locked down" or even closed over the sightings and/or reports. Superintendents and principals would then call the neighboring district only to learn that they had heard that we were in fact the ones that had closed or locked down. This phenomenon grew in intensity throughout the day and continued with similar calls and concerns regarding after school activities. Again, as school leaders and police spoke, it was confirmed that every district's callers were convinced that a neighboring community was the one who had altered school operations due to these social media reports.

 

After peeling through many of the rumor layers, it appeared that one district where the alleged original clown sighting was reported and one additional neighboring district kept their students inside for a few hours while details were verified.  Those "lockout" restrictions were lifted once the police confirmed that there was no credible threat to students or staff. 

 

Unfortunately, this is the same anatomy of the story around the country as these "ominous clown" sightings are initially reported and then exacerbated by social media before taking on a life of their own. Invariably, there are always a few willing participants who then rise to the occasion by donning a clown costume and making themselves part of the original story before being caught by police, at which point the wave of social media talk moves to another region.

 

Fortunately, we have a strong relationship with the police and remain in daily contact with neighboring superintendents. As a result, we were able to quickly verify that reports of neighboring districts shutting down over clown sightings were untrue throughout Friday's school day. We were also able to learn throughout the day, that police had not seen or verified a single report of menacing clown issues during Friday's scholastic day. 

 

We awoke this morning to reports of social media posting that "the clowns" will be coming to Walt Whitman High on Wednesday at 5PM. Similar rumors are circulating other communities and we all expect the social media attention to grow over the next several days. Once again, we have contacted police and neighboring superintendents and will be taking precautions while simultaneously ensuring that social media rumors do not grind our academic or co-curricular operations to a halt. However, you can rest assured that we are also taking prudent steps to enhance security, bolster surveillance, and increase information gathering processes to be sure that any individual(s) who might choose to disrupt our campuses or interact with students and staff in an inappropriate manner, are quickly apprehended and turned over to the authorities.

 

Again, we have absolutely no credible evidence that any of these "menacing clown prediction" rumors which are prevalent in communities throughout the county have merit. We will remain vigilant in the quest for safety and security but ask everyone to appreciate the need for fact checking and data verification before responding to these stories and furthering the social media phenomenon. 

 

Be well and have a wonderful weekend. 

 

Dr. Bennardo