With several local districts struggling to deal with school threats, it should come as no surprise that Ohio last year topped all states for the number of threats, which are increasing throughout the country, according to a study by a Cleveland-based consulting group.
“A nationwide epidemic of violent school threats is breeding fear, anxiety and frustration for educators, children and parents,” says a report from the group, the National School Safety and Security Services.
There is no national database of school threats, but over the past two years, the Cleveland-based consultant has reviewed more than 1,000 cases involving bomb or shooting threats in schools from coast to coast.
Ohio topped the list for the last school year with 64, followed by California with 60 and Pennsylvania with 55. Nationwide, threats targeting schools jumped 158 percent between the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years, according to the consultant’s study. Nearly three-quarters of the threats were shooting or bomb threats, and 70 percent targeted high schools.
Last week, Warren County Judge Joe Kirby expressed frustration as he ordered the detention of another young student in connection with the county’s ninth school threat case in recent weeks, and the third involving a 12-year-old.
“My objective is I want them to stop,” Kirby said during a hearing Thursday in Warren County Juvenile Court. “They may not stop.”
Warren County, like numerous districts across the country, is trying to find the best way to minimize problems with such threats — which almost always turn out to be unfounded — while assuring their community about school safety.
The federal government has issued suggested guidelines, while experts consult with individual districts and statewide organizations about best practices.
But no one claims to have all the answers.
“The majority of these threats are made by some young people who are making some very bad decisions without knowing about the consequences,” said Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services.
Warren County authorities have issued public statements and developed on-line videos to get the word out to students and their parents about the consequences for those responsible for the threats.
Yet Thursday’s arraignment of a third 12-year-old student came a week after Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell’s statement was turned into a video viewed more than 20,000 times.
“I can’t believe I am having this conversation again, but I am,” Kirby said during the first of two hearings dealing with cases of students making bomb threats against their schools.
Federal authorities have established suggested guidelines for responding to bomb threats in schools and other places.
First the U.S. Department of the Treasury Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms split the threats into two categories.
In cases where there is a real threat, “the caller has definite knowledge or believes that an explosive or incendiary bomb has been or will be placed and he/she wants to minimize personal injury or property damage. The caller may be the person who placed the device or someone who has become aware of such information,” according to ATF publication 75550.2.
In cases like those prompting the court cases and disrupting Lebanon, Springboro and Waynesville in recent weeks, “the person making the threat wants to create an atmosphere of anxiety and panic which will, in turn, result in a disruption of the normal activities at the facility where the device is purportedly placed.”
Depending on the threat, ATF recommends officials make a decision on how to respond based on a set plan of action practiced by staff and others who will be involved, including local police, including ignoring the threat.
“While a statistical argument can be made that very few bomb threats are real, it cannot be overlooked that bombs have been located in connection with threats,” according to the guidelines.
On the other hand, evacuating after every threat creates disruptions like those experienced in the three local districts.
“A student may use a bomb threat to avoid a class or miss a test. Also, a bomber wishing to cause personal injuries could place a bomb near an exit normally used to evacuate and then call in the threat,” according to the the guidelines.
Instead, ATF recommends a search be conducted before a building is evacuated if something dangerous is discovered.
“It is certainly not as disruptive as an immediate evacuation and will satisfy the requirement to do something when a threat is received,” according to the guidelines.
Staying safe, searching for solutions
Class stayed in session Wednesday at Berry Intermediate School in Lebanon. Police and school officials determined the girl’s bomb threat, texted to a classmate, was unfounded. She was taken to the detention, where she will stay until Friday.
Both Lebanon High and junior high were evacuated after threats were discovered in bathrooms at both schools on May 4, during a week in which threats were made every day at one or both of the high school and junior high.
Likewise Springboro school officials kept Five Points Elementary in session after a threat there on May 2, but the high school was evacuated on April 27 and closed for a further search on April 28 in response to a bomb threat left on the bathroom wall.
“There are two schools of thought,” Springboro Police Chief Jeff Kruithoff said. “We’ve had discussions with the school.”
No one has nailed down a sure-fire solution to the problem, but the National School Safety and Security Services offers three key steps designed to minimize lost time to empty threats.
Schools need to have trained teams ready to react, plans to heighten security following threats and plans to communicate with the community about the response and to counter misinformation, particularly on social networks.
Still schools will be sidetracked from educating students by such threats, made in the aftermath of school shootings and complicated by students communicating using cell phones and other electronic devices, as well as through notes left on the bathroom wall.
“We have to remember kids are driven by impulse, thrills. We’re in a society of immediate gratification,” Trump said.