In some districts, students are out for summer break, a time that’s meant to be refreshing and exciting. Others, however, are in their final weeks, and it’s being plagued by social media threats and school lockdowns.
For the fourth week in a row, South Eugene High School in Oregon was forced into a two-hour lockdown in response to threats of violence Wednesday morning. According to The Register-Guard, the last three threats the school faced prompted students to evacuate and classes were canceled for the day following the first two reported threats.
Police and the district’s superintendent said they’re incredibly frustrated about the frequency of these security threats.
“Superintendent Dey [Andy Dey] and I are here together, shoulder to shoulder, I think both with various levels of frustration and concern around what’s happening here in South Eugene High School, what’s happened in the greater community,” Eugene Police Chief Chris Skinner said during a news conference. “The minute we have to deploy resources here, really this entire city is less safe with limited resources. We’re committed to continue to respond here, in every instance.”
The concerns expressed by Skinner mirror those of Kenneth Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services. In a recent interview with District Administration, he recommended that district leaders communicate with students the consequences of posting anonymous threats targeting their schools as it requires resources and a “massive police response and heightened security at schools.”
Other districts have faced similar threats this week, including Half Moon Bay High School in California where students were evacuated Tuesday morning in response to a bomb threat.
Like most online threats target schools, law enforcement deemed the threat not credible upon investigation but issued an early release for students as the investigation took up most of the day.
In Michigan, law enforcement debunked anonymous threats school officials caught wind of through the state’s OK2SAY threat reporting program. The tips spoke of an unnamed student at Mason Senior High School who made a series of threats toward others in the school.
One alleged threat was about a “hit list” targeting students and teachers, but officials found no evidence that such a list ever existed, according to WTVG.
These types of security scares prompted protests from Erie Mason High School students demanding support from their district’s administration.
“We don’t feel safe in the school,” one sophomore told WTVG. The district’s superintendent Kelli Tuller assures that students are safe, but the constant rumors are creating widespread panic and fear.
“There’s a lot of rumors out there,” Tuller said. “I had shared with them that a letter went out Friday to try and squelch those rumors. Unfortunately, they continue to spiral out of control.”
Threats driving change
As security threats continue to plague school districts across the nation, lawmakers are hoping to make changes that help schools mitigate the risk.
Oregon legislators are currently considering a bill that would require schools to electronically notify families and employees of threats, the Statesman Journal reports.
House Bill 3584 would require school boards to adopt such policies for notifying parents, guardians and school employees whenever a school goes into lockdown, shelter-in-place, or evacuates, and how it resolves, within 24 hours of the threat.
“For some students, especially re-traumatized students, this is critical,” one parent in the Gresham-Barlow School District told legislators. “We are limited in how we can support our children if the school does not give us adequate communication.”
The Houston Police Department is also ramping up its police presence at schools as the year wraps up, according to Click 2 Houston. As part of Houston ISD’s Project Safe Start 2023 initiative, their goal is to increase safety and security at the end and beginning of the school year.
According to law enforcement, arguments and violence among students tend to ramp up toward the end of the school year, so they want to be proactive.
As for other school districts, ensuring the safety and protection of students is vital to their academic experience. As Trump told District Administration in February during a swarm of swatting hoaxes, here are three ways to mitigate the effects of falsified threats:
- Establish threat assessment teams, protocols and training
- Schools need to identify “heightened security” procedures that they will put in place when they determine threats are not credible and continue on with education while the threats are being investigated to identify the threat maker.
- Schools must have crisis communications plans as well as social media strategies to engage in timely and accurate communications with their school community when they are exposed to such threats.