As Halloween nears, local schools are operating normally but alert to 'creepy clown' threats

Some have banned clown costumes
Posted at 7:00 AM, Oct 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-18 07:00:58-04

CINCINNATI -- As Halloween approaches, Greater Cincinnati school officials are keeping alert but mostly operating as normal, despite the recent rash of "creepy clown" incidents in the Tri-State and around the country.

"For us, it's really business as usual," said Lauren Boettcher, executive director of media and community relations for Lakota Local Schools.

Since September, numerous incidents have been reported to police involving individuals dressed as clowns -- from a clown attacking a man while walking his dog in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to a clown attempting to grab a woman's baby at a bus stop in California.

Multiple threats made via social media have targeted local school districts as well, leading to school cancelations, and arrests in Colerain and Miami townships and Montgomery.

Police have determined that most, if not all, of the local threats have been hoaxes, but that doesn't mean school officials are going to let their guards down.

"We're just staying alert," said Dawn Gould, community relations coordinator for Kings Local Schools. "We would take any threat seriously, whatever it was."

For many districts, staying alert means maintaining awareness of incidents occurring in other nearby districts while continuing to operate as normal.

"As far as proactively … that includes our normal emergency or crisis communication," Boettcher said.

Under Ohio law, public school districts must have an emergency management plan in place.

Some districts, like Norwood City Schools, have taken a more direct proactive approach to the clown scare by making it clear to students that they will not be permitted to attend school or athletic events dressed as clowns.

"We're not going to tolerate distractions from the focus of what we do here, which is education," said Norwood City Schools Superintendent Rob Amodio.

With Halloween approaching, some may be wary of people taking advantage of costumed festivities to scare or threaten others. As with the emergency management plans, different schools and districts have different approaches to such events.

Some districts allow young students to dress up on a specific day. Such is the case in Talawanda Schools, where by long-standing tradition, a costume parade is held for elementary students every year.

However, because of dress-code policies, students are not permitted to wear costumes to school, unless it is for a school-sanctioned event. The district does not have any school-sanctioned costume days or events for older students.

Norwood City Schools do not have costume days or events at any grade level.

School officials' responses to potential threats could vary not only by district, but also by how specific the threat is and whether it is clearly directed at an individual or individuals within a district.

"You're going to respond differently if it's something general in nature, versus if it's something specific," said Holli Morrish, director of communications and public engagement for Talawanda Schools.

"If we received a very specific and direct communication about the clowns, we would respond very specifically and directly," she added.

If necessary, that response could include involving law enforcement, she said.

While school officials monitor their district's social-media pages for potential threats, many also stressed that students, staff and community members should report any threats they hear or see.

"We rely on our staff and students to bring concerns (to our attention)," Boettcher said.