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We're sick of bomb threats, students say

As another rumor sweeps through Sickles High, the kids hold rallies to call for an end to violence and to wild talk.

By LOGAN D. MABE

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 30, 2001


TAMPA -- The rumors spread through Sickles High School like a bad infection. The fear began to feel like a pulse beating through the student body.

"It was everything from having buildings blow up to saying there was going to be a bomb threat and then a drive-by shooting where everyone lines up," said Sickles junior Ryan Roeling, a member of the school's peer mediation team. "But it ended up just being a rumor."

On Thursday Sickles students called for an end to the loose talk.

During a series of rallies for each grade level, students spent the morning trying to shut down the rumor mill.

"I don't know about you guys, but I'm sick and tired of having bomb threats every other day," Roeling told a packed auditorium as part of a "Not In My School" anti-violence program, planned in conjunction with the Family First Foundation. "Every time there's a 303 meeting" -- that's school code to evacuate -- "we always have that fear inside of us that, hey, maybe today's the day."

Sickles has had 10 bomb threats this year, each resulting in an exodus from the buildings as police searched.

"At first, it was kind of a routine seeing the cops, the dogs and the look on the faces of our teachers," said Irene Vinas, a senior who helped organize the rallies. "Fear doesn't even begin to describe it."

Coincidentally, the "Not In My School" rallies came on the same day as the rumor of a massacre.

"People are starting to get scared," said junior Czarina Del Rosario. "Today was the day everything was supposed to happen."

Besides heightening campus anxiety, the bomb threats and rumors have affected class work. Del Rosario said she is in an Advanced Placement class, "and we've missed like two weeks of work. And we're still behind. I'm scared I won't know everything that's going to be on the test."

Principal Nuri Ayres said administrators traced the identity of one student who started the massacre rumor and suspended the student for 10 days for disrupting a school function. And Ayres wanted to stem the flow of any further wild talk.

"Let's stop the rumors. Let's stop the stupidity. And let's stop meeting at the stadium (an evacuation zone) for anything other than a pep rally," she said during one of the rallies.

During each rally, students signed their names to one of four large banners bearing the message, "I pledge to stop violence in our school."

Vito Ricciardi, a school psychologist and a crisis intervention team member, said the rallies will probably have a greater impact because they were student-driven.

"I'm proud of the students of Sickles High School in light of the recent bomb threats and rumors of violence," Ricciardi told a reporter. "They stood their ground and said, "Not in my school.' It was an amazing display of maturity from some kids going through some hard times."

Hard times that Roeling hopes end soon.

"It's not funny, and it's not cool and it needs to stop," Roeling said. "I have another year left here, and I don't want to go through this again."

- Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 813-226-3464 or at mabe@sptimes.com.

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