West Orange School District takes clown threats seriously

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Just when we thought 2016 couldn’t get any weirder, the clowns came. Beginning in South Carolina with unsubstantiated reports that clowns were trying to lure children, clown-mania swept across the country, leading to reports of scary and dangerous clowns and threatening social media postings made by “clown” accounts.

Though mostly considered a hoax, this has resulted in several arrests stemming from terroristic threats made on social media. Additionally, as hysteria continues to rise, school districts and police departments are left trying to calm frayed nerves while educating the public about responsible social media activity.

This ongoing clown madness has even affected West Orange. According to an Oct. 3 letter sent to parents by Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Rutzky, a clown posting was made on Instagram relating to West Orange High School.

The posting was made by an unknown individual, a.k.a ‘Bobby the Clown,’ who posted a picture of the high school and wrote, ‘this school next hahaha,’” the letter read. “The West Orange police are currently investigating this matter as the safety and security of our students, staff and parents is always the priority. At this time, the police indicate there have been no additional posts revealed and/or identified by the user about the high school or any other school in the district.”

As the “threats” were unsubstantiated, the school district did not close school. As expected by the administration and police, evident in this choice, nothing happened. However, West Orange police did increase their presence at the school.

The superintendent also provided an update on Oct. 4 to parents, in which he confirmed that, according to police, there had been no additional threats made.

Unfortunately, that is not the case everywhere in New Jersey. In Washington Township, two students were arrested for making clown threats as well as another student in Philadelphia.

“In line with social media safety, I was notified (Oct. 4) from a superintendent of schools in Morris County that a suspicious individual is trying to contact students via social media under the name ‘Lauren Ann Viper,’ specifically on Instagram,” Rutzky wrote in the letter. “Please discuss this with your children and check their accounts to make sure they have not made contact with this person. It is very important that we continuously remind our children to never give out personal information online.”

While many are debating whether the clown threat is earnest or inane, Rutzky is taking it very seriously due to the possible harm it could cause the district’s children.

“The bottom line is that this is very scary because kids think clowns are funny and friendly, but in this case it is the opposite,” Rutzky told the West Orange Chronicle in an Oct. 7 phone interview.

Rutzky explained to the Chronicle that the school is working with students to ensure they remain safe both physically and online while addressing this clown trend. According to Rutzky, the district is currently “walking a fine line” making sure they address the issue with the district’s younger children in an age-appropriate manner and ensuring the older students are instilled with a sense of the seriousness of online threats and giving out personal information online.

“This is a terrible thing,” Rutzky said. “Our children should be protected and safe at all times.”

Rutzky advises parents to pay attention to what their children are doing on social media and to encourage children, should they encounter anything untoward on the Internet, to alert their parents, teachers, principals, guidance counselors, etc.

“It’s sad what we’re dealing with,” Rutzky said.