Absenteeism soared in Anne Arundel County schools Friday after a week of rampant shooting rumors apparently spooked parents.
More than half of the students at two high schools stayed home. Across the system, absences quadrupled at Arundel high schools and increased more than fourfold at middle schools compared to the final day before the holiday break last year, schools spokesman Bob Mosier said, attributing the spike to the rumors.
By Tuesday, principals at five high schools and one middle school sent home letters to parents dispelling false reports that a shooting was planned for Friday, one week after a mass shooting in Connecticut that left 20 elementary students and six school employees dead.
Mosier said that by Wednesday, rumors circulated about a potential shooting at 25 of the county's 31 middle and high schools. None of the rumors was credible, he said, but school officials put out a systemwide warning.
"As the superintendent said, parents need to make the decisions that are in the best interests of their families," Mosier said.
Thirty-eight percent of high schoolers were absent Friday, as were 29 percent of middle schoolers. Absenteeism at elementary schools, about which there were no rumors of violence, was roughly the same as last year. The five school campuses where the rumors first circulated saw the greatest percentage of absent students. Old Mill High School in Millersville was missing 57 percent of its students Friday.
Anne Arundel County police have maintained a presence at every school, authorities said. As of late Friday, there were no signs of unusual activity and no calls from schools, police said.
Twenty fully armed police officers, known as school resource officers, are normally stationed at 21 schools in the county, including every high school.