Schools face new challenges with increased bomb threats

Only two weeks into the 2013-2014 school year, the Sherburne-Earlville School District administration is shaking off the headache brought on by two separate bomb threats.

Students, teachers and faculty were forced to evacuate the S-E middle and high schools last Thursday when the district received its first scare. By Tuesday – less than one week later – the district was put in a similar situation after finding a second threat written on a bathroom wall. The school district is currently leading an investigation into both instances.

I suppose that on one hand, I can argue that these threats, while unmistakably serious, can be taken with a grain of salt. What's the cliché? Kids will be kids? There's nothing out of the ordinary about adolescents testing the boundaries of acceptable social behavior. And this certainly isn't the first time (or two), nor will it be the last, that a local school district receives a potentially harmful threat.



But the matter that S-E has received two bomb threats during the inaugural weeks of the new school year is unsettling nonetheless. Perhaps more alarming is that S-E isn't alone when it comes to such events.

Unfortunately, the United States Department of Justice does not record national statistics on hoax bomb threats. The agency does, however, claim such instances to be more common now than ever. Four high school's in Fort Wayne, Indiana, were on high alert Tuesday after police found a note saying a bomb would go off at one of the schools during the early morning hours. It was the second threat that the Fort Wayne School District received within 48 hours. In Bonney Lake, Washington, the Sumner School District was evacuated after receiving their own threat; and in Indiana, a high school student was arrested last week in connection to a bomb threat left in the bathroom of the Whiteland High School.

It's not too much a stretch to call this growing number of fake bomb threats an epidemic, one arguably built up by youth who don't know or just don't care about the consequences of their actions (most of which are very serious and reach into felony territory). Given, most school districts do cover the issue of false bomb threats in their code of conduct. At Sherburne-Earlville, “The minimum period of suspension from school for any student, other than a student with a disability, who is found guilty of making a false report or bomb threat, may be one calendar year. In addition, all threats and reports will be reported to the NYS Police and students will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

But the real challenge facing school districts is finding effective ways to stop such threats and getting kids to realize the ramifications involved. In recent years, educators have dealt with similar challenges when it comes to bullying and they have met them head on through use of countless lesson units, informational movies, pamphlets, websites, and anything else that helps drive home a message that bullying bears significant consequences.

Perhaps we've reached a point where something similar should be done about bomb threats. Little Timmy needs to learn that if he threatens to blow up the school cafeteria one day, he’s likely not getting into college. And Jane can learn that forcing an evacuation might disrupt any plans of future employment.

Of course, any long-term solution to the prank bomb threat dilemma is open to interpretation. But as the number of bomb threat instances continues to climb, I maintain that it’s an issue we should be talking about.

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