CLEVELAND - A study of violent threats to schools shows nearly a third of those incidents were delivered by social media and other electronic means.
Ken Trump, an internationally recognized expert in school safety and security based in Cleveland, studied threats to schools over a six moth period from August 2013 through January 2014.
The number of bomb threats, shootings, acts of violence and hoaxes sent via electronic means accounted for a third of the 315 nationally documented threats.
“The difference is today, unlike back in the days of Columbine, schools administrators have to have crisis communications plans, social media and online presence so they can communicate as fast with parents, the media and community as the kids and parents are," said Trump, president and CEO of National School Safety and Security Services.
Many of the reports turned out to be false reports. Seventeen threats were considered serious because of the type of threat or because violence was involved.
Some electronic threats are sent through international, anonymous proxy servers which can take weeks to trace.
Trump cautions school administrators should assess perceived threats before reacting as their response may be more harmful than the possible threat.
“We stand a greater chance of kids being put at greater risk by prematurely evacuating buildings, by closing schools, by leaving kids out in the community all in well-intended efforts by school administrators, but they’re made in a knee-jerk way."
Trump dug through media and other reports to document the threats. He added the true numbers of actual incidents of threats or violence is difficult to discern because reporting is not mandated.
“Federal statistics grossly underestimate the extent of school violence, public perception seems to overstate it, reality is somewhere in between but we don’t know what those numbers are because there’s no federal mandatory reporting of K through 12 school crimes.”
Trump said after school shootings, people look for quick fixes like bulletproof backpacks or ballistic white boards and not focusing on the fundamentals learned after the shootings in Columbine, Colo.
He said schools having threat assessment protocols in place, working with police, having police do rapid response training and having basic emergency plans in place are important parts of keeping schools safe.
“Parents can ask simple practical questions (of school administrators), not only if a school has a crisis plan on paper, but when did that team meet, have they practiced their drills, have they done them during lunch periods when things are more chaotic?”
Trump said threats, electronic and otherwise, take a great toll on school community in terms of anxiety among those affected and in lost taxpayer dollars from police response and instruction time.