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School threats are serious business

By Jill Penley
Freelance

In the last few weeks, several area schools have been forced to increase security in response to threats made on social media. Most initiated lockdown procedures out of an abundance of caution. Dobyns-Bennett, Science Hill, Elizabethton, Happy Valley, and Unaka High School students reported postings warning of potential school violence by classmates.
“Any threat that is made to a school is taken very seriously and is investigated immediately,” said Dr. Mischelle Simcox, Johnson County Director of Schools. “There are certain disciplinary actions that are followed when any threat occurs. The safety of all of our students and staff is always a top priority.”
School administrators and law-enforcement officials say they cannot take any chances. “We have no way of knowing if a threat is genuine until we investigate,” said Johnson County Sheriff Eddie Tester.
TBI data shows from 2001 to 2017 almost 1,700 Tennessee law enforcement reports involving guns or threats of guns at schools or colleges — nearly once every three days.
America has endured horrific mass shootings involving schools, and in the aftermath of each, has gained useful knowledge. In many instances, perpetrators made statements or threats before carrying out violence, usually via social media. In recent cases in the Tri-Cities, each threat has eventually deemed a hoax; however, widespread panic and misinformation caused anxiety and disrupted classes.
Each threat also originated on Snapchat.
Since the release of the Snapchat in 2011, it has become a worldwide sensation with more than 400 million people using the phone app daily. One of the functions of this popular app is its “disappearing messages.”
When a user sends a private “snap,” which can be either a picture or video message, the window for viewing only lasts one to 10 seconds. Depending on user settings, the transmission of photos and videos will
“disappear” after being viewed by the recipient allowing the posting of items the sender does not wish to post to other platforms like Facebook or Instagram permanently.
Parents need to reiterate threats of violence, especially in involving schools, are not a joking matter, and law enforcement is expected to take them seriously.
It is often discovered that threats posted on social media are made by students
who are simply unhappy, being bullied, or who are seeking attention and have no intention of carrying out violence. School administrators and law enforcement authorities warn this is not the proper method for seeking help.
Ultimately, if charged with making a threat of violence against others on social media, the students and possibly parents can face serious trouble, including steep fines and arrests. Making threats via social media to scare or to cause harm to someone can also land you in jail.