1,600 Ocala students stay home after gun threat over Confederate flag incident

MARION COUNTY, Fla. — More than 1,600 of nearly 2,600 students who attend Westport High School in Ocala stayed home Monday due to a gun threat, authorities said.

The students who went to class had to get extra protection from 10 Ocala police officers, school officials said.

Police in Ocala have stepped up patrols at the school after shooting threats were made on social media over the weekend.

The situation started Thursday when four students brought small Confederate flags to school and waved them during lunch, school officials said.

An African-American student at the school was offended by the flags and punched one of the students. She was given a juvenile civil citation for hitting, and the four students who brought the flags were being disciplined by the school, officials said.

Students started posting about the situation over the weekend, which turned into a rumor there would be a mass shooting Monday, prompting parents to keep their children home.

Parent Vanessa Smith said she was horrified when her daughter told her of rumors online that there was going to be a shooting at the high school.

"I want her to go to school for the socialization aspect, but I'm like, 'Do I just keep her home and do online schooling?' I don't want to do that, but it makes me kind of consider venturing into that," Smith said.

One student wrote, "Please, please, please, don't go to school tomorrow."

"I don't like hearing about it this way. It makes me very frightened to send her to school," said Smith.

There were no major issues reported at the school.