Education

You will face criminal charges for making a school threat, FBI warns

With more than 1 million North Carolina public school students starting a new school year next week, the FBI is teaming up with police and school districts to warn about the consequences of posting school threats on social media.

Hoax school threats flooded the country following the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in February, escalating a climate of fear and uncertainty among students, parents and school employees. At news conferences Wednesday in Raleigh and Charlotte, law enforcement officials and school officials warned that it’s not a joke to make a threat.

“As the school year ramps up, we need for students to understand the message that threats, including hoax threats, are a very serious matter,” FBI Supervisory Special Agent Frank Nivar said at a news conference at Enloe High School in Raleigh. “Unfortunately, we see a rise in this behavior after national tragedies.”

The FBI has launched a national campaign called “Think Before You Post” warning about making false threats.

The news conferences come a day after a new report shows how much school threats have increased in North Carolina and nationwide since the Parkland school shooting, in which 17 people died.

North Carolina ranked ninth highest among the states in the number of school threats and violent incidents during the 2017-18 school year, according to the Educator’s School Safety Network. The Ohio-based group said North Carolina had 103 school threats and 13 violent incidents last school year.

Overall, the group reported a 62 percent increase nationwide in the number of school threats last school year. The group says social media was the most common method for delivering threats and that 81 percent of threats were made by students.

In the weeks after the Parkland shooting, there were more than 100 school threats received in Wake County, according to Russ Smith, the school district’s senior director of security. These threats led to schools being locked down, students being evacuated and law enforcement coming on campus.

Smith said investigating these hoaxes ties up valuable law enforcement resources and takes away from instructional time.

“Hoax threats are not innocent,” Smith said at the news conference. “They’re not funny and they’re not harmless. In fact they can be dangerous.”

Smith warned that students making these threats could be suspended from school and face criminal charges. The number of threats increased to the point this year that state lawmakers passed a law making it a felony to make a school threat.

“Hoax threats are going to be dealt with severely as far as school discipline is concerned, as well as law enforcement,” Smith said.

At least 350 students in U.S. schools have been arrested, charged or both in threat cases since the Parkland shooting, according to a review by the Wall Street Journal.

The warning that threats will not be tolerated was echoed at Wednesday’s news conference by Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison.

“This year if we get some hoax coming in, somebody’s going to be charged,” Harrison said. “Whether we want to do it or not, somebody is going to be charged because we’ve got to stop this because it’s costing too much money and disrupting too many classes.’

Both Harrison and Smith reiterated, though, that they want people to report school threats to the proper authorities in case they’re not hoaxes. The Wake County school system has an anonymous tipline, 919-856-1911, for reporting potential threats.

Another repeated theme Wednesday is the need for parents to talk to their children about being careful of what they post on social media. Parents were also encouraged to monitor what their children are posting.

“Folks, if they live in your home they’re your responsibility and you’ve got to take some of that responsibility,” Harrison said in a message directed to parents. “So whatever they’re on, they should know and they should monitor it.”

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui
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