(Updated on Tuesday, Sept. 26, with statement from local officials.)
Highland Park police are looking into if a social media post has played a role in a series of recent threats targeting a a local elementary school.
Two more threats came in on Tuesday, Sept. 26, naming Red Oak Elementary, a grammar school in Highland Park, and prompting a school search and increased police presence on site. The law enforcement response is the third overall in the past week, following bomb threats and evacuations of Red Oak on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 21-22.
The unspecific threats on Tuesday, according to the City of Highland Park, originated in “agencies outside of Highland Park” that relayed the threats against “Red Oak Elementary” to Highland Park authorities. Police and North Shore District 112 staff reportedly swept the school grounds before all district schools resumed normal operations.
The previous threats — Sept. 21-22 — also reached the City indirectly. A local media outlet informed HP police of a bomb threat on Sept. 21, and multiple out-of-state agencies contacted the City about threats to Red Oak on Sept. 22. In each case, the threats found to carry no merit.
On Tuesday, the City, District 112 and Township High School District 113 released a joint statement responding to the threats. In part, it reads, “We take each and every threat seriously. We also know that our response sets an example for our community. It is our hope that each of you has felt safer knowing the multiple precautions that have been taken, from talking openly about these non-credible threats to conducting building searches with bomb-detecting dogs to increasing patrols by Highland Park police and enhancing public safety measures at schools throughout our community.”
The threats to Red Oak Elementary began just a few days after the school was mocked by incendiary right-wing and anti-LGBTQ+ account Libs of TikTok.
The account — which was banned from TikTok for its abusive posts but has millions of followers on other platforms — shared a photo on Sept. 15 of an inclusivePride flag inside a Red Oak classroom with the caption, “Why would Red Oak elementary school (Highland Park, IL) have a massive progress pride flag hanging above students’ heads all day?” Like most of the account’s posts, it ignited a firestorm of negative and intolerant responses, including thousands of reactions and hundreds of comments.
City Communications Director Amanda Bennett said multiple residents made local police aware of the post and “law enforcement is investigating the reported concerns,” but the City could not provide further information about the ongoing investigation. District 112 officials confirmed the photo does feature a Red Oak classroom but declined to comment on the social media post or the investigation.
The post about Red Oak is similar to dozens of others posted by Libs of TikTok, which regularly ridicules the LGBTQ+ community and LGBTQ+ programs in schools and libraries. The account, which has a large and engaged following, became infamous for its inaccurate 2022 posts about transgender care at children’s hospitals, which were then subject to a deluge of threats and harassment.
The photo of a Red Oak classroom was the subject of the account’s ire on Sept. 15. The post, published on Facebook and Instagram, was picked up by other accounts, including Awake Illinois, another social media account that mocks schools for equitable and inclusive practices. The first bomb threat came in on Sept. 21.
District 112 is not alone in its emergency responses. The City of Highland Park said it is working with local and federal agencies looking into the “nationwide surge in bomb threats and other threats” over the last several months. Many of those threats can be linked to social media harassment.
In the past week alone (since Sept. 18), at least three other school districts mentioned by Libs of TikTok — all in posts criticizing education by or about the LGBTQ+ community — faced threats. Schools in Davis Joint Unified Schools in Sacramento were mentioned on Sept. 18, 19 and 22 and the district has since faced numerous bomb threats, including one on Tuesday.
Pulaski High School in Green Bay, Wisconsin, has been threatened multiple times since Libs of TikTok posted about it on Sept. 20. An elementary school in the Central Kitsap School District (Washington) was subject to a threat on Sept. 25 and was part of a Libs of TikTok post on Sept. 22.
The notorious social media account also played a role in a Highland Park controversy earlier this month. With a misleading post, the account ignited intense criticism of a Poverty Simulation that led to the event’s cancellation.
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