Three bomb threats at Talawanda High School last month raised concerns, so a presentation was made to the board of education outlining procedures in the district’s safety plan.
Holli Morrish, the district’s director of communications and public relations, said parents were concerned after the three bomb threats and the district received many calls about the resulting lockdowns.
She said the plan adopted by the district’s Safety/Emergency Planning Team was followed in each instance. She said the district uses various functions of social media and text alerts to let parents get accurate information about such situations and urged people to not tie up phone lines, which can hamper efforts to deal with problems.
“What can you do to help? Talk to young people at home about the dangers of making false reports or pranks. A bomb threat is a felony offense,” Morrish said. “Do not flood the office with calls. We will contact you. You will get answers after the event is over.”
Getting accurate information out, as quickly as possible, is paramount, she said and urged parents to not listen to rumors on social media.
Oxford Police Lt. Lara Fening emphasized that point in her comments during the presentation, in which she was one of three representatives of the police department to speak.
“Kids will text parents within minutes of a lockdown. I have received those texts,” she said. “We want correct information (going out) and accurate. The emergency plan is there to keep children safe.”
That emergency safety team consists of school district and local law enforcement personnel with clearly defined roles for those involved in dealing with an emergency.
Morrish said a building leader determines whether to activate the plan and police and fire departments are notified.
Police Lt. Geoff Robinson serves as the incident commander in such situations and he can determine whether to summon a SWAT team or help from other agencies.
“We have a lot of regional resources,” he said. “Our (School Resource Officers) are a big part of our safety team. It is a great collaboration.”
The district’s SROs are Matt Wagers, from the Oxford Department, and Jim Squance, through the Butler County sheriff’s office.
“We order a lockdown when we get to a scene until we determine what we have. We do that because we know where everybody is,” Robinson said, adding they may do a modified lockdown where everything continues normally inside the building, but the outside is locked down and no may enter or leave the building. “We have done that a few times at the middle school.”
He said they then determine what the situation is and decide on a course of action.
In the case of bomb threats, he explained, they do not want people moving about the building because they are bringing in bomb-sniffing dogs from other agencies and do not want them distracted while they are doing their work.
Part of the decision is based on the credibility of the threat and the need to keep everyone spread out and not moving around the building.
Oxford Police Chief John Jones followed up on Morrish’s earlier comment about rumors on social media.
“If you have answers, call me or the fire department. When it’s on social media, we have to track down false leads and that takes time. Please come talk to us about information you hear in school. Talk to an administrator, a teacher or the SRO,” Jones said. “We are speaking to you not only as police officers, but as parents.”
Board President Mark Butterfield said such incidents are disruptive to the school and will not be tolerated.
“They are stressful to children and parents,” Butterfield said. “As board president, I will tell you, there will be no lenience on it. As you said, it’s a felony.”