Complaints about dress code enforcement that had simmered all week at Kelso High School may have contributed to a case of social media running amok Friday morning.

At 10:30 a.m. Friday, a 911 caller, who identified himself, said his sister, a student at the high school, had texted him saying there was a shooter at the school and students were running out of the building. 

The report was wrong. Police and administrators at the scene immediately knew that, but social media quickly lit up with complaints about the district's decision not to lock down the school or notify parents. 

No one knows for sure how this situation evolved, but it may be linked to the dress code issue.

All week, the school has been abuzz with complaints that school officials often enforce the dress code unfairly and target religious accessories. The administration denies it, and on Thursday Kelso High School Principal John Gummel posted an email to parents warning that students who do not follow the dress code would be disciplined.

"Some of our staff have been unfairly demonized" for enforcing guidelines set by the school board, he wrote.

While the dress code tempest brewed, rumors circulated on Facebook that there would be a shooting at the school and that someone had brought in a gun, said Kelso Police officer Aaron Marthaller, who investigated Friday morning. Given the rumors, he said, the student who had texted her brother may have seen the school's walking class leaving Kelso High in a group and mistakenly believed they were fleeing a gunman.

No one is certain the rumblings about the dress code spawned the rumors of pending violence, but Marthaller and school district spokeswoman Beth Grambo suspect they did arise that way.

Marthaller said no specific threat was phoned in against the school and that district officials were aware of the situation and handled it appropriately. 

In response to complaints that it had not acted adequately to protect students, the district posted this Twitter and Facebook message Friday:

"Late last night a rumor was posted on social media that mentioned a possible school shooting today. The rumor spread and an investigation was initiated by Kelso High School Administration with the support of the Kelso Police Department. All leads were checked and the rumor was unsubstantiated. Even so, the Kelso police have maintained an elevated visible presence at the high school today."

Meanwhile, the dress code controversy continued into Friday afternoon, as 13 students picketed along Allen Street outside the school after the school day ended.

“We’re participating because (my friend and I) have gotten dress-coded a few times for things that really shouldn’t have been dress-coded. I think they take it way too seriously here with making us take off our crosses … and caring more about what we are wearing more than our education half the time,” said sophomore Kristen Vossen, one of the protesters. "We are not a distraction. Holes in our pants or our shoulders are not distracting anyone from their learning. I don’t think anyone cares about it except the school.”

Fellow sophomore Lucas Napper said, “These girls, they spend so much time and money into how they look. That’s how they want to look, these teachers have no right to take that from them. These girls … that’s one of the most important things in their life.”

Parent Cindy Lampe, 55, joined the students, saying her daughter, a junior, was "dress-coded that morning for the same pair of pants she had worn consistently throughout the year."

“I think that the kids need to be heard. I wish there would have been a parent-student forum prior to it coming to this level. Had that had been done, my daughter wouldn’t have broken dress code, because I would’ve understood what their position was and they would’ve understood what the students’ position is.”

The high school dress code requires that "skirts, shorts, rips (in pants) or dresses must be 5 inches from the top of the knee in all positions."

Students violating the dress code are asked if they have alternative outfits on campus. Otherwise, they must call parents to bring other clothing.

In his letter, Principal Gummel noted: "The opinion of some is that our dress code has not changed with the times and it is not representative of our current student culture. Depending on your perspective, this may or may not be true. What is true is that we do have a board approved dress code and it is our job to support that code."

About 35 students were tagged for violating the dress code Friday, which is more than normal. But reports that the student body planned mass violations in protest did not materialize,  Grambo said.

In a prepared statement, Kelso School District Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said, “No student has been disciplined for wearing crosses or other religious items.”

Gelbrich also stated that the district is “addressing student concerns about dress code enforcement,” and that the school district’s dress code “aligns with others in the region.”

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