School buses arrive at Presque Isle High School on Thursday morning, Jan. 2, as students were released early following a shooting threat sent to Principal Dave Bartlett. Credit: David Marino Jr. | The Star-Herald

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — One day after a threat to Presque Isle High School sent students home early, hundreds opted not to attend classes in SAD 1 schools on Friday.

SAD 1 comprises the communities of Presque Isle, Mapleton, Chapman, Castle Hill and Westfield.

SAD 1 superintendent Ben Greenlaw said about 50 percent of Presque Isle High School students and 38 percent of total SAD 1 students did not come to school. He said the standard absence rate for the district was approximately 10-15 percent.

According to the Maine Department of Education, there are an estimated 1841 students attending SAD 1 schools, including 487 at Presque Isle High School. That would put the number absent on Friday at around 240 at Presque Isle High and 700 district-wide.

Greenlaw said he was not surprised that many decided not to come to school after what occurred on Thursday. Students across SAD 1 were dismissed at 9:30 a.m. after a school shooting threat was sent to Presque Isle High School Principal Dave Bartlett on New Year’s Day.

The email had threatened a shooting at Presque Isle High School on Thursday unless the school met certain conditions. Bartlett read the email and immediately contacted authorities at around 8 a.m. that day.

Greenlaw said police had increased its presence across the district on Friday, and that safety precautions will continue in the coming days, but he hoped normalcy could return in the new week.

“I’m hoping that when school resumes on Monday, that our attendance will look how it typically looks on a Monday morning,” Greenlaw said. “And we can focus on teaching and learning in our school district.”

Presque Isle Police Chief Laurie Kelly said Friday afternoon that the unknown culprit sent the threatening email to Bartlett using a Virtual Private Network — a purchasable network often used to achieve anonymity online.

Kelly said Presque Isle police were conducting interviews and attempting to track down who purchased the VPN. She does not believe the email was sent from outside of Maine.

According to Greenlaw, who said district staff had spoken to authorities about the incident, the investigation is being led by the Presque Isle Police Department, with assistance from the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

On Thursday, Greenlaw said administrators would excuse all absences from SAD 1 schools on Friday.