Sunday, October 21, 2018

Opinion

School threats unnerving

A handwritten note on what appeared to be toilet paper found at Menomonie High School read, “I’m going to shoot up this (expletive) school on 11/​14.”

Several messages found at Chippewa Falls High School mentioned guns in school and potential bombs and weapons outside the school if it was evacuated.

At Eau Claire Memorial, a 15-year-old girl admitted to writing threats on a bathroom stall. They included “Get your students out B4 I kill them!” and “If you don’t they will die! I have a bomb and loaded gun.”

These threats all were made recently over a six-day period. Thankfully, none came to fruition. But they still were costly.

“It was very stressful,” Chippewa Falls police Chief Matt Kelm said following the Chi-Hi incident. “You have a lot of students and staff members in one place, and you really don’t know what the mindset is at that time. You automatically assume (the threats) are real until it is proven otherwise.”

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Using preliminary data, the Educator’s School Safety Network reported there were 829 bomb threats during the 2016-17 school year, a 27 percent increase from the 2012-13 school year. Bomb threats increased 106 percent from 2012-13 to 2015-16. Wisconsin had 40 reported bomb threats in 2015-16, the 10th-highest total in the nation. 

“Even though threats like these are becoming more common, please know that we will not let down our guard, and we will continue to keep the safety and security of our students and staff as our highest priority,” Menomonie Superintendent Joe Zydowsky and police Chief Eric Atkinson said in a news release.

Students who make such threats, Zydowsky said, are immediately suspended and face an expulsion hearing before the school board. He or she also could be referred to law enforcement for potential criminal charges.

Memorial senior Tyler Nichols was in a statistics class before evacuating the school.

“It makes you feel uneasy knowing that somebody like that goes to my school,” he said. “It’s not acceptable, even if it was a joke.”

Such actions are anything but amusing. They take up valuable time and resources for law enforcement, waste taxpayers’ money and add significant stress for both teachers and students in what should be a positive learning environment. There also is a never-cry-wolf element to the incidents. If students continue to see threatening messages that prove hollow, will they take the next one seriously?

Eau Claire schools Superintendent Mary Ann Hardebeck hopes they do.

“You just can’t ignore or discount anything — you have to take every threat seriously,” she said in a story by the Leader-Telegram’s Lauren French.

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Zydowsky said students need to know the seriousness of such threats.

“I think it’s important students understand the disruption that these types of events cause,” he said, “the number of resources that are used to respond to these types of situations and the severe consequences that come with acts like this.”

At the time of this writing, police had identified those responsible for the messages at Memorial and Chippewa Falls. A student in the Memorial incident admitted to writing threats and was referred to Eau Claire County Juvenile Intake for violating “bomb scare” and “terrorist threats” state statutes.

Memorial junior Martha Seymour, one of the many students evacuated, said the threat should prove to be a learning experience.

“I think people will be more careful about what they say when they’re joking around about things like this,” she said. “Now students realize that it’s serious.”

Hopefully she’s right.


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