EBENSBURG - Central Cambria students will see an increased police presence today in response to a threat scribbled in a men's restroom last week.
Uniformed state and local police, including the Cambria County Sheriff's Department's K-9 unit, will be patrolling inside and outside the school today, officials said.
And as part of the additional security measures, students will not be permitted to carry backpacks to their classes, Central Cambria Superintendent Vincent DiLeo said.
"We're not just pushing [the threat] under the rug," DiLeo said. "We've taken it very seriously from the get-go."
The message threatened a shooting at the high school today, May 3, a day before the high school senior prom.
Students discovered the threat written on the side of a stall in a men's bathroom on April 23 and alerted school officials, who requested an additional police presence on campus.
State police and officers from Cambria Township, Ebensburg Borough and Jackson Township departments routinely patrol and have had a continuous presence throughout the week, DiLeo said.
On Tuesday Central Cambria officials hired an additional off-duty police officer to patrol the schools.
The increase in uniformed officers inside and outside the school is both a deterrent to any possible violence and a sign of reassurance for students, DiLeo said.
Security will continue to be tight on Saturday as students return to the school for their senior prom, DiLeo said.
A letter sent home to parents Tuesday outlined specific procedures students must follow today.
In addition to a temporary ban on backpacks and gym bags, students will not dress for gym classes today.
Any students carrying athletic equipment for after school events or practices will have their bags searched and stored in a secure area until the end of classes.
"As educators, it is our ethical responsibility to take these preventative measures and thus raise the comfort level of you, and your student," the letter sent home Tuesday reads. "It is also our professional responsibility to encourage consistent attendance on a daily basis, therefore, we will educate your student on Friday, May 3, as we do each and every day of the school term."
The letter added, "We are also cognizant of the fact that you, as a parent, may be wrestling with whether to have your student attend school on Friday. While we cannot make that decision for you, please know that we acknowledge the possible dilemma you face."
Attendance has fluctuated throughout the week and school officials plan to be flexible with attendance today, said Kim McDermott, high school principal.
"We do expect that there will be a large absence tomorrow," McDermott said Thursday.
About 100 students have already been excused from classes Friday, McDermott said.
Students' fears of an absence prohibiting them from attending prom were laid to rest in the letter.
"...prom registrants will not be restricted from attending prom on Saturday, May 4, if they are absent from school on Friday, May 3," the letter reads.
In addition to faculty and staff, multiple police officers will be on hand during Saturday's prom, which is typical of all Central Cambria events, DiLeo said.
Officials said the threat has disrupted the typically celebratory end of the school year.
"The most frustrating part of this whole thing is that somebody has taken away the joy and excitement for our students at the end of the year," McDermott said.
Mirror Staff Writer Zach Geiger is at 946-7535.