While we have been very fortunate in the past year not to have experienced a large-scale school attack, threats to our schools continue in high numbers. Just this week, I came across the following news stories related to school threats:
AMESBURY, Massachusetts – An Amesbury Middle School student was ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation after threatening to create an incident similar to Columbine as the anniversary of that shooting approaches, according to police.
COPPERAS COVE, Texas – Security was stepped up and attendance was down Monday at Copperas Cove High School, which was named in a shooting threat. Parents were notified Friday evening after the threat, “I’m going to shoot up Copperas Cove high school on 3/20/17,” was found spray-painted on a wall at an abandoned car wash on Casa Drive.
PEORIA, Illinois – In early February, police arrested a 14-year-old girl on multiple charges related to text messages and comments she made on social media threatening a school shooting. At Partridge Elementary, someone wrote on a bathroom stall in pencil, “school shooting March 30th.” At Alta Loma Elementary School, a 12-year-old student was booked into the Durango Juvenile Detention Center on a hoax charge after he made threats against Santa Fe Elementary School via Snapchat.
PUYALLUP, Washington – Puyallup police late Sunday detained a Kalles Junior High School student who allegedly made threats against the school, the department announced.
SPANISH FORT, Alabama – Two male juvenile Spanish Fort High School students are in custody after making terrorist threats through social media on Sunday (March 19) afternoon.
CORNING, New York – A Corning-Painted Post High School sophomore was arrested Thursday for allegedly threatening to shoot school staff members.
NEWTON COUNTY, Georgia – An 11-year-old boy is facing charges after deputies say he made threats against his school, showed a gun and then posted the video on social media.
IREDELL COUNTY, North Carolina – An 18-year-old is accused of making a threat toward North Iredell High School on social media.
DELMAR, New York – Three Bethlehem Central High School students were arrested and charged with making a terroristic threat after police say they threatened to “shoot up the school” on various social media sites.
ATLANTA, Georgia – A middle school student accused of bringing a gun and ammo to class will spend 30 days in custody. This comes amid allegations he also threatened to kill a teacher at McNair Middle School.
CABOT, Arkansas – Three Cabot students have been arrested in the past week and three other cases are being referred for criminal charges. This was the second threat reported in a week at this school, according to a Facebook post by the Cabot Police Department.
According to the Educator’s School Safety Network (ESSN), a national nonprofit that compiles data and provides training to deal with bomb threats and similar school safety concerns, U.S. schools have experienced 1,267 bomb threats during the 2015-16 school year, an increase of 106% over the same time period in 2012-2013. Since November, 2011 there has been a 1,461% increase in bomb threat incidents.
Amy Klinger, co-founder and director of programs at ESSN, explains, “people do it because it’s exciting and interesting to watch any chaos and confusion that it might cause. The best thing a school can do to prepare for bomb threats is to have a plan based in best practices and to give its teachers and staff training on how to respond.” According to Klinger, “some of the excitement that is created by confusion is because most educators have not gotten any training. But when a response goes well and it’s not total chaos, you find the number of threats goes down. … If the first threat was exciting and interesting, you’ll likely see more. But if not and it was dealt with in an orderly fashion, future threats are less likely.”
Ken Trump, President of National School Safety and Security Services, states, “We are now dealing with ‘Generation Text. The rumors typically become greater than the issue, problem, or incident itself. Rumors fly in minutes, not hours.” National School Safety and Security Services reviewed 812 threats made to schools during the first half of the 2014-15 school year. Bomb threats ranked highest at 44% of threats made, with shooting threats second, at 29%. Total threats increased by 158% over the previous school year.
We need to be sure we are doing all we can to prepare and train staff to respond in a calm and orderly fashion in the face of a threat. When staff members know that the school has a solid procedure for reporting, investigating and acting on concerns, they are able to respond more calmly. We are coming up on the anniversary dates of several school attacks, so it’s a good idea to increase staff vigilance around any behaviors that seem out of context or related to violent ideation, aggression, grievances, intolerance, revenge, or increasing anger. For a more complete list of warning signs of violence, read this.
As always, we want to focus on creating a welcoming school climate, which provides a protective factor for students and encourages them to come forward and report concerns to adults. We want to take all threats seriously, and have a process in place to investigate, assess and manage them. It’s also important to have an effective communication system so parents can receive information quickly, alleviating anxiety and concerns that may have been fueled by rumors or texts from their children.
If you’re wondering whether your school can do more to keep everyone safe, you may want to consider a comprehensive safety assessment. Summer is a great time to put together the staff and tools necessary to start your next school year, safer than ever.
Schoolsecurity.org, National School Safety and Security Services website