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May 22, 2013

Schools must find ways to deal with threats

The Daily Star

---- — Anonymous threats to schools are nothing new. Through the years, they have consisted — among other messages — of anonymous phone calls, magazine or newspaper lettering glued to a letter, and scrawled warnings on a bathroom mirror.

But enter the Internet and social media, and it seems that threats are springing up more and more often.

These incidents could be asinine attempts by a young person to delay a test for which he or she is unprepared or for an assignment that might be due. But they could also be products of sick and tortured minds that seek revenge for being bullied by classmates or for some real or imagined slight by a teacher or administrator.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., in December, and earlier last year in Chardon, Ohio, when three students were shot and killed and six were injured, schools must ensure the safety of their students.

On Friday, two local schools were disrupted because of threats originating on the Internet.

Walton Central School was locked down because of unsubstantiated Facebook threats, and at Delaware Academy Central School, a general threat against the school on an Internet message board led to a lockdown, and the postponement until June 1 of the prom scheduled for last Saturday.

It must have been terribly inconvenient, particularly for those young people at Delhi who had put so much planning into their prom, but the actions of administrators at both schools were utterly appropriate. Doing anything else would have been irresponsible.

You never know where or when the next Newtown might occur. That leaves principals and superintendents in the uncomfortable position of having to ascertain what might be a genuine threat and what might not.

The National Association of School Psychologists has some recommendations.

“Effective threat assessment is based on the combined efforts of a threat assessment team, usually composed of trained school-based personnel and select members of the broader school community such as law enforcement, faith leaders, and representatives of social service agencies,” the NASP says on its website.

“School personnel should include top administrators, mental health professionals, and security staff. The interdisciplinary team approach improves the efficiency and scope of the assessment process, provides diverse professional input, and minimizes the risk of observer bias. Specific training for all members of the team is essential!”

With our local schools already pinching pennies just to try to educate kids, funding for that kind of operation would be tough to come by. But in this new, scary, Internet-driven world, it’s something each district has almost no choice but to attempt.