Prosecutor sends letter to Franklin families about school threats issue

School-related threat cases will receive 90-day juvenile detention recommendation by prosecutors

Franklin City Schools and the Warren County Prosecutor are encouraging parents to discuss school violence threats with their children, while also clearly stating the severe penalties for those who make threats.

In an effort to be proactive and stem the tide of school threats, Franklin superintendent Michael Sander reached out to Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell, who shared a letter with families about the seriousness of these threats.

Sander said the prosecutor’s letter is designed to be a tool for parents to have intentional conversations with their children about this topic. The letter is an update to a letter Fornshell posted a few years ago on social media.

Fornshell said his office has prosecuted more than 50 cases over the past four years involving threats toward teachers, students and school facilities.

“These threats have come in various forms, including verbal, notes, writings on restroom walls, social media postings, and actual possession of weapons on school grounds,” Fornshell said. “Fortunately, law enforcement determined that most of these threats had not developed beyond the making of the threatening statements. However, in all of these incidents, a significant amount of law enforcement resources was expended to investigate the seriousness of each threat. Neither the school districts nor law enforcement has a clear way of distinguishing between a credible threat, a troubled student simply acting out, or a “bad joke.”

Fornshell said these incidents can happen anywhere, at any time, with any age student. He used the recent example of a six-year-old boy shooting his teacher at a Virginia elementary school. He said the school districts and law enforcement must treat each threat as if the safety of all students is at risk.

In doing so, the education of students is put on hold, and police are pulled away from their daily efforts to keep the rest of the community safe. It is also why the Prosecutor’s office treats school-related violence threats very seriously, he said.

“Charges against the juveniles have included inducing panic (school grounds), illegal conveyance of weapons (school grounds), making false alarms, which are misdemeanor and felony-level offenses,” Fornshell said. “The protocol that our office has recommended to all Warren County law enforcement agencies is that a juvenile who is discovered engaging in this type of conduct will be charged with a felony-level offense. The juvenile will be immediately arrested and taken to Warren County Juvenile Detention Center where the (Juvenile) Court will hold the child until mental health professionals are able to conduct a risk assessment on the juvenile.”

In addition, if a juvenile is found guilty, the Prosecutor’s Office is recommending a minimum 90-day sentence in the Juvenile Detention Center. This will be in addition to the discipline issued by the school district. Fornshell said this is the protocol that has been in place for the past few years.

He also said officials will also have to revisit minimum ages for children to be placed in the JDC for these offenses. Officials said the threshold age is 11 years, but that it is on a case-by-case basis.

“This policy will be enforced regardless of whether the threat is subsequently determined to be credible, or simply a bad joke,” Fornshell said. “Students have to learn that we are taking these threats extraordinarily seriously. We don’t know what we’re dealing with and we’re not going to pretend they’re jokes.”

Fornshell said school and public officials are trying to be proactive, and these incidents create a great deal of stress on parents. He also said every threat has to be taken seriously and be treated as a credible threat.

“What happened in Nashville is everyone’s worst nightmare,” Fornshell said. “We are going to do this and not be apologetic. If people think we’re overreacting, so be it.”

Warren County Educational Service Center Superintendent Tom Isaacs said, “it was a fantastic idea” from Sander. “I think it’s very likely other school districts will do the same.”

Sander said Fornshell’s letter was sent electronically to parents in the district and has also been posted to Franklin schools website.

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