TWIN FALLS — Magic Valley students and parents are on edge this week after a series of threats prompted police presences on school campuses, triggered lockdowns and forced some schools to reconsider policies about arming teachers.
For four days this week, law enforcement and school officials dealt with social media threats against schools in Mini-Cassia. On Thursday, local and state law enforcement swept Declo High School after a threat mentioning a bomb at the school was posted on an Instagram account.
In Twin Falls, police are seeking a warrant for the arrest of a boy they say pulled a gun on students of Magic Valley High School at an intersection not far from campus. The incident happened after an argument between two students continued when classes dismissed, Twin Falls police said in a Friday statement.
A separate teenager, a 17-year-old, has been charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, police said. Authorities would not disclose the names of the people involved.
Jerome police announced Friday a social media threat toward a Jerome High School student was false and “no actual, serious threat was present.” Filer High School was placed on a soft lockdown Friday afternoon after a Snapchat message depicted a person students knew driving with a gun.
The incidents come less than two weeks after 17 people were killed during a mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school. This week, President Donald Trump suggested arming willing teachers, who’d receive special training.
Here in Idaho, there’s a 1993 statute — which has been amended over the years — that allows local school districts to decide whether and how to allow school employees to have guns on campus, Idaho State Department of Education spokeswoman Kris Rodine said. It exempts authorized staff from the ban on guns on school campuses.
The Twin Falls School District doesn’t arm teachers. Officials have discussed the topic, but no changes are planned.
“At this time, it has been decided that our current practice of not arming our teachers is the best choice for our district,” the district wrote in a statement Friday in response to an inquiry from the Times-News.
The school district works closely with the Twin Falls Police Department and collaborates on procedures for crisis management — including for an active-shooter situation, the district said. School resource officers are armed and present in school buildings.
Twin Falls police don’t recommend arming teachers, and “we would not want our staff members to infringe on the procedures that take place in the event of an active-shooter situation,” according to the district’s statement.
The district said it’s working with law enforcement agencies to provide more self-defense training for teachers “that would help them secure their classrooms rather than having the teachers take part in the actual apprehension of an active shooter.”
Here’s a closer look at recent threats affecting Magic Valley schools:
News of the incident near Magic Valley High School spread on social media this week. But Twin Falls police believe there’s no threat to the public or student safety.
“At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that any crimes occurred on school grounds,” according to the Friday police statement. “Twin Falls Police Detectives indicate there is no evidence the weapon was taken to school and in possession of students during school hours.”
According to police, they were dispatched at 2:38 p.m. Thursday to Magic Valley High School in the 500 block of Main Avenue North for a possible aggravated assault that happened a few blocks away from the school.
Two students were in an argument throughout the day and left in separate vehicles, according to the statement. Students reportedly stopped at a red light at Second Avenue North and Addison Avenue.
A passenger in one of the vehicles — who wasn’t involved in argument — reportedly approached the vehicle of one of the students who was involved in the argument and brandished a firearm, police said.
The victim returned to Magic Valley High, where he contacted the school resource officer. More police officers were dispatched to the school.
Detectives and school resource officers identified all of the children involved in the incident, police said.
Twin Falls School District spokeswoman Eva Craner said in the statement: “The Twin Falls School District continues to make student safety a top priority. We will continue to work with local law enforcement to ensure that our school campuses are a safe and inviting place for our students.”
If there’s an emergency or threat to a school, the school district will communicate with parents and families using an automated phone call, text and emails, and will post information on the school district website, Craner said.
Police ask anyone with more information to contact Detective Rivers at 208-735-7200.
Jerome police announced Friday a threat toward a Jerome High School student was false and “no actual, serious threat was present.”
The Jerome Police Department received several phone calls Tuesday morning about rumors circulating of a shooting at Jerome High School. That came after police received a report Monday afternoon about threats toward an individual student via social media.
Further investigation revealed there wasn’t any credible threat, Police Chief Dan Hall said in a Friday statement. “There is no danger to the public or Jerome Schools as a result of this particular incident.”
The case will be forwarded to the Jerome County prosecutor for possible action, he said. Police haven’t identified the child involved.
“The Jerome Police Department takes any such threat very seriously, and false reporting is also taken very seriously,” Hall said.
As a precaution this week, extra police officers patrolled near Jerome High School. Classroom doors were locked, but classes proceeded as normal. Extra adults were also outside the school building when students were walking to classes.
Filer High School was placed on a soft lockdown Friday afternoon after a Snapchat message depicted a person students knew driving with a gun.
School officials were notified at 1:45 p.m. by students about the message, assistant principal Trudy Weaver said in a statement.
“While there was no articulated threat directed toward any person or any of our schools, we were concerned enough that we elected to go into a soft lockdown to ensure the safety of our students and staff,” she wrote.
Filer police investigated and the situation was resolved by about 2:30 p.m. The lockdown was lifted.
During the soft lockdown, school staff maintained constant supervision of all students, who were directed to stay indoors until they were able to secure transportation to leave campus. All students were able to leave safely.
TWIN FALLS — President Donald Trump wants to arm teachers. The governor of Florida wants to raise the age limit for purchasing firearms. The survivors of last week’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School want assault weapons banned.
Nearly everyone admits school shootings have become so frequent that something finally has to be done to stop them. But what?
We asked Magic Valley politicians, police, doctors, teachers, students and gun experts: How do we prevent another mass shooting?
TWIN FALLS — Magic Valley schools are starting to breathe a sigh of relief after a rough flu season and a whooping cough outbreak.
Earlier this month, three school districts — North Valley Academy in Gooding, Valley in Hazelton and Camas County — closed their campuses for one or two days because so many students and teachers were sick. And whooping cough cases were reported in Twin Falls, Kimberly and Minidoka County schools.
Now, school and health officials are starting to see some improvement, with fewer reported illnesses. And school attendance rates are rebounding toward normal levels.
“We are seeing a downward trend start to happen… we’re hoping that’s going to continue and fingers crossed, we’re on the downward slide of things and we’ll see less cases,” said Logan Hudson, nurse manager at South Central Public Health District.
Another piece of good news: There haven’t been any new whooping cough cases in schools since early February.
In the Minidoka County School District, attendance was worse this winter than the previous three years. “I’ve heard a lot about the flu and people having their kids out,” Superintendent Ken Cox said.
But overall, Cox said he thinks things are getting better and attendance rates are starting to improve.
To help prevent the spread of germs, school custodians sanitize desks more often. School nurses talk with elementary school classes to teach children about topics such as coughing into their elbow and washing their hands.
Since North Valley Academy reopened earlier this month, common areas at the school — such as computer labs — receive a deep cleaning multiple times per week. The student attendance rate has also improved.
The school also sent home information with parents about illnesses circulating this season, and sleep and nutritional habits.
“Especially for kids who aren’t getting adequate sleep, it makes it so much earlier to get sick,” school principal Jeff Klamm said.
When Valley School District closed its campus earlier this month, the attendance rate was hovering around 79 percent. The school closed on a Friday and since it’s on a four-day school week with Mondays off, students had four days to recover.
Teachers came in that Friday and along with the custodial crew, “we just did a deeper cleaning of all of our classrooms” and hallways, Superintendent Eric Anderson said. That included disinfecting common surfaces and things multiple people touch, such as doorknobs, lockers, laptops and desktop computers.
By the time students returned to school the following week, the attendance rate was back into the 90s. It has continued to improve and is now normal at 95-96 percent.
In total, 66 deaths across Idaho have been reported as a result of flu-related complications. Nine of those were here in south-central Idaho, all among people ages 50 and older.
But for the Jerome School District, it’s a typical season for illnesses and absences, Superintendent Dale Layne said. “We haven’t had some of the extremes like I know some school districts have seen.”
But when students are out sick, they’re gone for longer — a few more days than usual, Layne said.
Attendance rates in Twin Falls schools are fairly typical for this time of year, although they’re worse at some schools compared with last year. Overall, “it hasn’t been a noticeable change over previous years,” Bowman said.
To help prevent the spread of illness, school custodians disinfect common surfaces throughout the day and at night.
Beyond the flu and common colds, a few Magic Valley school districts have dealt with whooping cough. One case of whooping cough — also known as pertussis — was reported in early February at Canyon Ridge High School. Three students had the illness in Kimberly and two in Minidoka County.
Those diagnosed with pertussis suffer from coughing in “explosive bursts ending with the typical high-pitched whoop, and occasionally, vomiting,” according to the health district.
With the whooping cough case in the Twin Falls School District, school officials worked with the health district to draft a letter notifying Canyon Ridge High parents. The student was kept out of school until a doctor determined they were no longer contagious, school district operations director Ryan Bowman said.
When Jerome school officials heard about whooping cough affecting a few Magic Valley schools, “we did some extra thorough cleaning at our schools,” Layne said, and verified with cleaning product vendors the chemicals would take care of that particular illness.
In Twin Falls, school employees remind children to wash their hands, Bowman said, and to practice good hygiene habits to avoid spreading germs. But “anytime you’re in a public setting, that is tough to do.”
WASHINGTON — A former senior adviser to President Donald Trump’s election campaign pleaded guilty Friday to federal conspiracy and false-statements charges, switching from defendant to cooperating witness in the special counsel’s probe of Trump’s campaign and Russia’s election interference.
The plea by Rick Gates revealed that he will help special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in “any and all matters” as prosecutors continue to probe the 2016 campaign, Russian meddling and Gates’ longtime business associate, one-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
With his cooperation, Gates gives Mueller a witness willing to provide information on Manafort about his finances and political consulting work in Ukraine, and also someone who had access at the highest levels of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Also Friday, Mueller’s team unsealed a new indictment solely against Manafort that included an allegation that he, with Gates’ assistance, secretly paid former European politicians to lobby on behalf of Ukraine.
The indictment accuses Manafort of paying the former politicians, informally known as the “Hapsburg group,” to appear to be “independent” analysts when in fact they were paid lobbyists. Some of the covert lobbying took place in the U.S.
The indictment says the group was managed by a former European chancellor. Court papers accuse Manafort of using offshore accounts to pay the group more than 2 million euros.
Gates, 45, of Richmond, Virginia, made the plea at the federal courthouse in Washington. He admitted to charges accusing him of conspiring against the U.S. government related to fraud and unregistered foreign lobbying as well as lying to federal authorities in a recent interview.
The plea came a day after a federal grand jury in Virginia returned a 32-count indictment against Gates and Manafort accusing them of tax evasion and bank fraud.
The indictment in Virginia was the second round of charges against Gates and Manafort, who were initially charged last October with unregistered lobbying and conspiring to launder millions of dollars they earned while working on behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party.
Manafort continues to maintain his innocence.
“I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence. For reasons yet to surface he chose to do otherwise,” Manafort said Friday. “This does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled-up charges contained in the indictments against me.”
In court filings over the past few months, Gates gradually began to show the strain the case was placing on him and his family.
He frequently pleaded with U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson for leniency in his house arrest to let him attend sporting events with his four children. Even on Friday, ahead of his plea, Gates had asked the judge to let him take his children to Boston for spring break so they could “learn about American history in general, and the Revolutionary War in particular.”
Under the terms of the plea, Gates is estimated to face between 57 and 71 months behind bars. Prosecutors may seek a shortened sentence depending on his cooperation.
Gates’ decision marks the fifth publicly known guilty plea in the special counsel probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin during the 2016 campaign.
It comes on the heels of the stunning indictment last week that laid out a broad operation of election meddling by Russia, which began in 2014, and employed fake social media accounts and on-the-ground politicking to promote Trump’s campaign, disparage Hillary Clinton and sow division and discord widely among the U.S. electorate.
The charges to which Gates is pleading guilty don’t involve any conduct connected to the Trump campaign. They largely relate to a conspiracy of unregistered lobbying, money laundering and fraud laid out in his indictments.
But his plea does newly reveal that Gates spoke with the FBI earlier this month and lied during the interview. That same day, his attorneys filed a motion to withdraw from representing him for “irreconcilable difference.”
Gates served on the Trump campaign at the same time that Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner met with a team of Russians in Trump Tower in June 2016. He was also in the top ranks of the campaign when then-Sen. Jeff Sessions held a pair of undisclosed meetings with Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.
For a few months in 2016, Gates was indispensable to Trump, leading the ground effort to help Trump win the Republican nomination and flying from state to state to secure Republican delegates in a scramble that lasted all the way until the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
But his power and influence waned once Trump fired Manafort in August 2016 after The Associated Press disclosed how Gates and Manafort covertly directed a Washington lobbying campaign on behalf of Ukrainian interests.
Gates survived his mentor’s ouster and worked through the election on Trump’s inaugural committee — but among Trump aides he earned the nickname “the walking dead.” Gates also worked briefly with the outside political groups supporting Trump’s agenda, America First Policies and America First Action, but was pushed out of that job last year.