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Bomb threats risk safety of the public, not just students

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In an era where violence in schools is increasingly in the news, school administrators and law enforcement must take every threat seriously.

At least six bomb threats have been reported at Madrid-Waddington, Norwood-Norfolk and Canton school districts within the past year.

Although every school bomb threat this year has turned out to be a prank, school districts and law enforcement agencies say they must treat every threat as a potential for injury and loss of life.

Some schools have revised their evacuation and emergency plans. Some schools, like Madrid-Waddington, have designated school safety coordinators.

“School systems and building officials have all become pretty efficient at searching their buildings. They are more aware of anything that seems out of place, more aware of securing their buildings, and staff is more vigilant of suspicious persons and bags,” St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin M. Wells said.

Madrid-Waddington Elementary Principal Matthew Daley leads the district’s Safety Team, comprised of members of the custodial staff, teachers, support staff, and an officer from the state police.

The team has developed an emergency evacuation plan and a lockdown plan that is practiced at least once during the school year.

“District staff and students are encouraged to report any suspicious messages or threatening activities to district personnel immediately,” Mr. Daley said.

When a bomb threat was called in May, personnel evacuated all students from the building in less than 10 minutes. The school even updated parents on the status of their children via Facebook updates.

“This drastically reduced their level of anxiety,” Mr. Daley said.

Norwood-Norfolk has received three bomb threats so far this year. Superintendent Elizabeth A. Kirnie said she isn’t happy about disrupting classes, but is willing to do so when it comes to the safety of her students.

“We have to judge the level of the threat, and whether students would be safer in their classrooms or exiting the classrooms based on whatever existing evidence we have,” Mrs. Kirnie said.

Many of the recent threats were via notes and graffiti in bathrooms or on desks, Mr. Wells said.

“We have gone through periods of times in the last 30 years where we get a rash of bomb threats, usually based on time of year, weather or in some cases a particular issue with a particular school, a discipline-related issue or change in policy,” Mr. Wells said.

The timing seems to be in better weather, end of the school year or near a break in the school calendar.

If the culprit is caught, the crime is usually a misdemeanor, but it has been bumped up to a felony in some extreme circumstances.

“The avenue for locating the suspects is better with digital phone systems, recorded lines and caller ID functions,” Mr. Wells said. “Also if more than one student is involved, nothing is a secret.”

In most cases, the school presses charges against the student.

“Even without a device, the threat is in and of itself a crime,” Mrs. Kirnie said. “If we discover someone knew about the person who made the threat and failed to report it, then once they are caught. They have abetted a felon.”

“What we are hoping in the future is that students will come forward and minimize the disruption to schools and law enforcement and save themselves from possible prosecution.”

So far, the biggest public safety threat to come from school bomb scares is that they tie up emergency resources that cannot be used elsewhere.

“It would be tough to nail down how much it costs in dollars, as normally it is the patrols that are already working,” Mr. Wells said. “It is more the issue of them being taken away from the multitude of tasks that they were already scheduled for or being taken away from being able to respond to a real emergency.”

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