High School Threats No Joke for Teachers, Parents

Alexandra Pannoni

Violent threats made toward high schools involving clowns have swept the nation recently.

"There's movies with creepy clowns, but that people are threatening kids with creepy clowns is just out of control and crazy," Cathy Archambault, a parent of a student at Bristol Central High School in Connecticut told a local news station.

But many of these incidents have turned out to be hoaxes. A Montana teen was facing charges last week for making a threat against Missoula high schools involving clowns, which he said was a prank, a local newspaper reported.

These aren't the only kind of threats that cause concern for high school administrators -- bomb threats, school shootings and other threats regularly occur, but often turn out to be unfounded.

Parents and teachers of high schoolers may wonder whether to take threats seriously, but they should keep the following in mind before they make a judgment.

1. Don't dismiss any threats: The last thing parents or teachers should do when they hear about a threat is keep the information to themselves, says Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers. Share the information with law enforcement or the school's administration, he says, so they can investigate the threat.

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"I tell parents, if you have a question about anything, call us. That's why we are here. I would much rather spend an hour taking calls around clowns if that helps alleviate a fear within the community or helps alleviate some anxiety for students," says Daniel Kelley, principal of Smithfield High School in Rhode Island.

He has handled bomb threats and hoaxes throughout his career, but none involving clowns yet, he says.

If teachers see something amiss in their classroom, they should let administrators know, Canady says.

2. Don't investigate threats yourself: That can sometimes be tough for parents, Canady says, because there's a natural tendency for them to want to find out what's going on. But police may already be looking into the situation and parents could unintentionally hamper the investigation if they get involved.

Kelley tells parents to be judicious about what they read or write on social media sites like Facebook. Facebook is not reliable source, he says, and when users share information that is not vetted, it can potentially cause more harm.

Sometime parents may communicate with each other on social media and not realize there are students reading, he says.

He would rather parents call the school if they have concerns than hash them out over Facebook.

3. Recognize there are procedures in place to keep teens safe: Officials don't dismiss any threats, Canady says.

"I can't guarantee anyone's safety anywhere, but what I can say is that we do a lot of things to put safety measures in place, to create barriers to make it more difficult for would-be suspects to do egregious things," he says.

"It's not perfect, but it's overall, I think it's a pretty sound principle that we follow when we do this in school."

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And teens may be the ones keeping the school safe. The majority of hoaxes and threats Kelley has dealt with have been reported by students.

Sometimes he receives private messages from students on social media late at night alerting him to concerning information. "The kids, really, kind of look out for each other because of the culture that we are trying to create and cultivate here in our school."

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Alexandra Pannoni is an education Web producer at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter or email her at apannoni@usnews.com.