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District dispels rumors of racial unrest at Lathrop High School

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Posted: Friday, April 19, 2013 12:03 am | Updated: 4:05 pm, Fri Apr 19, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District sent an email and automated phone message to parents of Lathrop High School students Wednesday night to dispel rumors of a race war and violence at the school.

There have been multiple fights at the school during the past week, but they were not racial in nature, school district spokesman Bill Bailey said Thursday.

“There is no race war,” he said. “These aren’t racial fights, but there have been a lot of rumors on social media among students about why the fights started.”

The email and phone message from Lathrop Principal Dave Dershin was sent out about 9 p.m. Wednesday after a story aired on KTVF Channel 11 about an incident involving a gun in the school parking lot Wednesday afternoon.

As it turned out, the person arrested was not a Lathrop student and he was not involved in the fights at the school, Bailey said. However, the sight of police cars swarming the school parking lot shortly after school let out and the report on TV exacerbated the rumors that had been circulating through the school, he said.

“That kind of brought all this to a boil,” he said.

After the television report on the 6 p.m. news, the school district received several calls from concerned parents, at which time school officials decided to send out the email and automated call to clarify what happened.

“Due to an unrelated incident earlier this week, rumors about potential violence have been spreading through Facebook and student text messages,” the email from Dershin reads. “We take every report and threat seriously, and we thoroughly investigate every lead.

“We are asking for your help talking with your student about responsible communication. Please encourage them to not forward texts or further inflame rumors and to communicate responsibly with one another.

“We are taking measures to respond to rumors and to continue to provide a safe environment for all our students,” the email states. “We will have additional police presence on campus, and teachers will talk with students about responsible communication and how to keep our schools safe.”

Seven students have been suspended and one expelled as a result of three incidents this week involving fights, intimidating behavior and bullying via text messaging, and making threats on Facebook, Bailey said.

Four police officers were stationed at Lathrop when school let out Thursday and the same number will be present when school gets out today, said Sgt. Robert Thompson with the Fairbanks Police Department. The added police presence was “due to an increase in tensions,” he said.

In the incident involving the gun, Thompson said police received a 911 call about two people in an SUV in the Hering Auditorium parking lot with a gun in the vehicle about 2:45 p.m. Police pulled the vehicle over near the Noel Wien Public Library on Cowles Street and found five people in the vehicle, one of whom had a gun. However, that person was not in the SUV when the vehicle was in the Lathrop parking lot, Thompson said. The unidentified male was arrested for failing to immediately notify police he was carrying a gun, Thompson said.

Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.

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