West Fargo school expected to reopen Wednesday as investigation into threat continues – INFORUM

December 8, 2021 by No Comments

WEST FARGO — Cheney Middle School is expected to open up for in-person learning Wednesday, Dec. 8, as an investigation into a shooting threat at the school continues.
Students at Cheney Middle School attended classes online on Tuesday after the West Fargo Police Department became aware of a threat of violence. After-school activities including a girls basketball game at Liberty Middle School and sixth grade band concerts across the district were also postponed or canceled.
During a Tuesday afternoon press conference held by West Fargo Police and West Fargo Public Schools, Police Chief Denis Otterness said police responded to a threat posted to Snapchat about 9:30 p.m. Monday.
Multiple reports were made of the potential threat, he said, including many made by students to school resource officers across the district.

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Superintendent Beth Slette said Tuesday afternoon that she expected Cheney Middle School students to be able to return to classrooms the following day. If that changes, the district will make an announcement.
"When threats like this are made, it is important to remember that schools are still statistically the safest place to be," Slette said.

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West Fargo Public Schools released the following statement early Tuesday:
"Late last evening, the West Fargo Police Department alerted the school district to a very specific threat of violence regarding Cheney Middle School for today, Tuesday, Dec. 7.
"This threat was shared anonymously in a Snapchat group; we are so grateful to the students that brought this to our attention so it could be investigated immediately. The WF Police Department is taking this threat seriously, has been working on the investigation all night, and is committed to keeping the district informed as the situation evolves."
Otterness confirmed that the threat was about a shooting, and an increased police presence was stationed at all of the schools in the district on Tuesday.

West Fargo Police Chief Denis Otterness speaks at a press conference regarding a threat of violence at Cheney Middle School on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, at the Leidal Education Center in West Fargo. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum
West Fargo Police Chief Denis Otterness speaks at a press conference regarding a threat of violence at Cheney Middle School on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, at the Leidal Education Center in West Fargo. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum

"Some of that increased presence will be visible to the public and some will not," he said. "I will not provide security-specific details related to the operations of our staff."
Slette urged families to talk with their children about the potential threat and their feelings of safety at this time, suggesting families review safety procedures and maintain a normal routine with their students. She said resources are available in the schools to help families deal with concerns.
"We all need to take care of our mental health as we do with our physical health. Asking for help does not mean you are weak," she said.
She also pointedly said the district takes threats made by students seriously.
"Our students need to know that making a threat will not get them a day off from learning, and we will hold them accountable," she said. "It isn't snitching to tell someone in authority when something just doesn't look or feel right."
Otterness said the investigation will include interviews with students and adults as well as two media companies, Snapchat and Google, which officers reached out to immediately Monday evening.
Otterness, who expressed frustration with Google, said investigators were still waiting on a response from the company. While Snapchat responded to the police's request for information, he said, Google had yet to respond Tuesday afternoon.
"It's unacceptable and should be unacceptable for everyone in our community," he said.

West Fargo Superintendent Beth Slette and West Fargo Police Chief Denis Otterness take turns speaking to the media during a press conference regarding a threat at Cheney Middle School on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, at the Leidel Education Center in West Fargo. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum
West Fargo Superintendent Beth Slette and West Fargo Police Chief Denis Otterness take turns speaking to the media during a press conference regarding a threat at Cheney Middle School on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, at the Leidel Education Center in West Fargo. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum

While criminal charges ultimately lay in the hands of prosecutors, Otterness did not rule out the potential that any juveniles or adults involved could be charged.
The threat against Cheney Middle School happened less than a week after a student at Oxford High School in Oxford, Michigan, allegedly shot and killed four students, wounding many others at the school. The student was charged as an adult with multiple counts of murder, and his parents were both charged involuntary manslaughter.
While Otterness was not explicit what charges a parent could face in this situation in North Dakota, he said making credible threats such as this one could result in a charge of terrorizing, a Class C felony in North Dakota. According to North Dakota Century Code, Class C felonies carry a maximum penalty of five years in jail and $10,000 fine.
"These threats weigh heavily on the adults and the children and it takes away from their ability to learn if they don't feel safe," Slette said.

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