School Threats

Administration works diligently every day to protect schools from threats of violence, but what takes place behind principals’ doors?

When+bomb+threat+rumors+ran+rampant%2C+many+students+were+hesitant+to+come+to+school.++More+than+400+stayed+home+that+day%2C+according+to+attendence+secretary+Kim+Brown.
When bomb threat rumors ran rampant, many students were hesitant to come to school.  More than 400 stayed home that day, according to attendence secretary Kim Brown.

When bomb threat rumors ran rampant, many students were hesitant to come to school. More than 400 stayed home that day, according to attendence secretary Kim Brown.

When bomb threat rumors ran rampant, many students were hesitant to come to school. More than 400 stayed home that day, according to attendence secretary Kim Brown.

Diana Dudenhoeffer, News Editor

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“I can safely say that no two situations are ever alike.  It’s not black and white at all,” principal Kelly Allison said regarding threats of violence against schools.

   He explains that the course of action depends on how administration gets the information, where it came from, who shared it and the threat’s intent. 

   “Most of what we see now is social media and using devices to share information, and people trying to either be funny or to get attention,” Allison said.

   The nature of social media is that content is copied and pasted and shared.

   According to vice principal Scot Phillips, administration can become aware of these threats on social media in a number of ways. Students can notify school police of any dangers through the tip line, the phone number located on the back of all student IDs.

   They also become aware of these threats of violence through word of mouth.  When a student discusses the matter with a teacher or counselor, administration is notified.

   “That’s where you have to figure out what’s legitimate and what’s not legitimate,” Allison explained. “Why does this person have this information?  Did they have any part in how it was originated?  It’s very time-consuming to try to come up with what really actually happened and what the intention was.”

   The reason why the process is so time-consuming, Phillips explained, is that the situation requires much investigation.

   “For example, in the most recent threat in October, administration spent two full days talking with students, trying to find the source of the information,” Phillips said.

   Both Phillips and Allison say the process is like “chasing rabbits” because someone will bring in their phone with evidence of a threat, and they have to find out where that student got the information.  From there they must follow the texts and tweets and Facebook posts up the chain until they find the original poster.

   “Arriving at the source is very difficult and time-consuming,” Phillips said.

  Chasing rabbits is why it takes  time to notify the public about the situation.

   “We’re wading through emails, Facebook posts, tweets and texts, so it takes time to notify staff and students, especially because we have to take into consideration both the school punishment side of the matter as well as the legal side.”

   In October, several schools in the area were

under threats of violence, among them  Kickapoo, Glendale, and Nixa High School.  Allison suspects that the reason for this is that students will copy off of each other.

   “When attendance is bad because of certain incidents that have happened, it may give somebody else the idea, ‘hey, if we do this, then maybe we won’t have to go to school on Friday,’” Allison said.

“When there’s a threat made, we treat them all the same.  We can’t assume it’s just a rumor,” Allison said.

   According to attendance secretary Kim Brown, students who elect to stay home on the day of a rumored shooting or bombing will have their absence coded as elective.  Elective absences are ones that are not related to medical issues, and they count against students’ attendance.

   On October 13, the day of Kickapoo’s recent threat, 22.6% of the student body decided to stay home, a stark contrast compared to the 94-96% average attendance on any given day.

   When somebody makes a threat against the school, it isn’t often that the Springfield Police Department gets involved.  Typically, Allison said, it’s handled within the administration and school resource officers. 

   “There are words that people can use that get the attention of authorities outside of school,” he explained.

   Citing safety concerns, Allison could not share the specific words that get authorities’ attention.

   “There are also some things that school resource officers are mandated to share with Springfield police . . . things that are of serious nature that are criminal.  In general, most of the time, they do not get involved.”

   The Springfield Police Department (SPD) will also get involved regarding threats of violence when   the Springfield Public Schools system needs assistance.  Since the SPD has more resources than the district in this respect, they will help if a school needs help tracking down a phone number, for example.

   However, anything beyond the scope of SPS becomes a police matter.  The SPD will take over when there are crimes involved.

   Allison explained that every threat is investigated fully, even if they’re rumor-based.

   “When there’s a threat made, we treat them all the same.  We can’t just assume that it’s a rumor.  That’s why it takes a  long time to talk with every single person to try to get all of the information because we don’t want to miss anything,” he said.

   Rumors are what make the situation so complex.  In the specific incident regarding Kickapoo’s shooting threat in October, the rumors are what gave the threat such teeth.

   “In the five years that I’ve been at Kickapoo, that was the first time that we’ve had to communicate with anybody outside the school, like the media and parents.  It was only because we could not stop the rumors.  [The threat] was actually almost a week and half old when the rumors started.” 

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