Unsubstantiated threats continue to plague school districts across the Miami Valley, despite new response protocols, aggressive prosecutions and punishing school responses.
Empty claims involving bombs and other threats - made already this school year in New Carlisle, Oxford, South Lebanon and Springboro, have prompted school evacuations and police investigations, while also alarming parents, students and school officials.
Last year in Ohio, only one of 47 bomb threats reported by educational facilities resulted in discovery of an explosive device, according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Although rarely more than idle claims uttered over a phone line or scrawled on a bathroom wall, school officials feel understandably obligated to carefully weigh whether to again interrupt the school day to ensure the safety of students and employees after a threat is made.
“We have to treat every threat as viable — we have 700 and something students in this building,” Paula Crew, assistant superintendent for Tecumseh Local Schools in New Carlisle, said after a threat at the middle school last month.
“These threats drain a lot of resources and a lot of money and what students need to realize is there will be actual consequences for their actions if this takes place,” Crew told a reporter for the Springfield News Sun.
In South Lebanon, police patrols greeted students and staff arriving for school on Wednesday after phone threats on consecutive days prompted evacuation of the elementary serving students in the Kings Local Schools.
“It’s unusual for an elementary school,” Sgt. Jeff Boylan of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office said.
The sheriff’s office continued to investigate the incidents, apparently triggered by calls from the same suspect using an old or prepaid cellphone.
It was the third or fourth bomb threat of the new school year in Warren County, following a year in which a dozen interrupted school and prompted a range of responses from court, police and school officials in Springboro, Waynesville and Lebanon schools.
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Without evacuation, Springboro officials determined the latest threat, earlier this month at the junior high, was unfounded and students and staff continued with their school day.
During Wednesday’s juvenile court hearing involving a 12-year-old boy charged with reporting the threat he scribbled on a bathroom wall, Kirby noted the resurgence in the problem, which prompted county authorities to issue a warning to students and parents last year.
“Here we go. Round two,” Kirby said during the hearing. “Good grief, what in the world is going on?”
Kirby then added that failure to respond to a potential threat could result in a tragedy such as the one last February in Butler County that left two students at Madison Jr./Sr. High School wounded by a classmate and two others injured while fleeing.
Still - after the parents said he would have no access to guns - Kirby released the short, blonde boy on house arrest so he could attend counseling and be clear of the detention center, a key concern of his mother.
The boy was also scheduled for an expulsion hearing at the board of education building.
Otherwise Kirby said he wanted the boy dropped off at the detention center during school days to assuage fears of parents, students and staff at Springboro Junior High.
Last month, Talawanda High School was locked down, delaying the end of the school day, while Oxford police checked the building after another bomb threat was found in a bathroom.
“It was a disruption to everyone’s lives,” Police Chief John Jones told a reporter from the Hamilton Journal-News.
School officials also have to balance duty to notify parents while calming fears about the safety of their children and continuing to educate the students.
“Your child’s safety is our highest priority. We believe school to be safe, so school will resume as scheduled tomorrow,” Kings Superintendent Tim Ackerman said in a note to parents Tuesday after the second straight threat and evacuation.
Experts offer strategies for parents and educators, but there is apparently no method guaranteeed to end the making of school threats.
“It is not uncommon for schools that receive an initial threat to experience subsequent spin-off threats off and on over time, especially if offenders have not been identified or if the school-community is unaware of the serious consequences,” Ken Trump, president of National Safety and Security Services, said last week.
“By having a strong crisis communication plan and social media strategy, school officials can regularly update parents, students and staff to reduce anxiety,” Trump added via email.