Schools Used Crisis Plans to Respond to Threats

2013-12-20T02:15:00Z Schools Used Crisis Plans to Respond to ThreatsBy Julie Wootton jwootton@magicvalley.com Twin Falls Times-News

WENDELL, Idaho • Wendell officials’ response to a school shooting threat “appears to be spot on,” a state education official said Thursday.

Without knowing all the details, Matt McCarter – who oversees an Idaho Department of Education division that includes school safety – said school officials appear to have responded well.

“It seems like their response is what you’d want to do,” he said.

Security at Wendell High is being tightened this week after a suspicious note with a threat of a school shooting was found Monday.

Students aren’t in any danger, Superintendent Greg Lowe said, and the school is safe and secure.

The school has remained open and wasn’t locked down.

The state Department of Education provides resources for school districts to develop crisis response plans.

“But ultimately, each school district is required to come up with its own plan,” said Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for the agency.

After finding the note with the shooting threat, Wendell school officials followed a protocol that’s outlined in the district’s crisis prevention manual.

The manual, developed years ago, was just updated in March, Lowe said.

It outlines specific steps to respond to a variety of threats, such as a shooter entering a school or a hostage situation.

But Monday’s incident wasn’t a black-and-white scenario, as the threat was in a note, Lowe said.

When a threat comes in, “the first essential thing that has to be done is assess the threat and the seriousness of it,” he said.

The district’s crisis plan calls for bringing in local law enforcement officers.

On Monday, Wendell police were notified within about five minutes and came to the school, Lowe said.

School officials decided to have three police officers at Wendell High this week. They also followed a plan in the crisis manual to secure the school building.

That includes making sure all doors – except the front entrance – are locked, Lowe said.

Threats at Canyon Ridge High

At Canyon Ridge High School, two boys who made threatening comments Friday were suspended and won’t return.

On Wednesday, school officials were fielding calls from concerned parents after rumors spread.

But on Thursday morning, the school only received one phone call about the incidents, district spokeswoman Beth Pendergrass said.

The Twin Falls School District has five school resource officers – one for each high school and middle school. An extra officer will be on duty all week at Canyon Ridge.

A school resource officer responds to a reported threat at the high school where they’re normally assigned.

“We treat all threats like it’s the real thing,” Twin Falls High principal Ben Allen said.

With the presence of officers, the goal is “to prevent things from happening,” said Preston Stephenson, school resource officer at Twin Falls High.

Since rumors were going around about the threats at Canyon Ridge, an extra officer is at the school “to provide a reassurance,” he said.

Each school in the district has a crisis response team, Allen said, but specific procedures aren’t shared publically.

Responding to a threat

When a threat is made at a school, school officials look at the options for responding – such as lockdowns or evacuating the building.

“The nature of the threat plays a lot into the specific response,” McCarter said.

School officials should also activate their crisis response team, he said, and reach out to law enforcement partners.

“It sounds like that’s what happened in Wendell,” he said.

Staff members are also on “high alert to keep eyes and ears on students,” McCarter said.

Any threat is taken seriously, he said, but school administrators also have to weigh the credibility of the threat.

Factors that school officials typically consider is whether threats have emerged in the past, if students have been expelled for bringing weapons on campus, the level of bullying and harassment on campus, and if a high-stake test is coming up.

Information released by a school district about a threat should “pivot toward a general statement around a threat, rather than specificity,” McCarter said.

More specific information, though, is appropriate if there’s an immediate crisis situation, he said.

Wendell officials sent home a letter to parents Tuesday, but it didn’t specifically state the threat was a school shooting.

With school tragedies that have occurred around the country, “people rightly so get concerned and fearful for students,” McCarter said.

Parents can do some simple things to help, he said.

Those include making sure their emergency contact information is up to date, making sure students have adults they can trust and following school visitor policies.

Copyright 2015 Twin Falls Times-News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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