"Dangerous pranks" in the form of bomb threats not unusual at Holt schools

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By Stevie Pipis
Holt Journal Staff Reporter

Holt Public Schools have received eight bomb threats this school year.

“All of the threats were handwritten on a wall, mostly in bathrooms,” said Superintendent David Hornak.

Schools located in Holt. Map by Google.

Schools located in Holt. Map by Google.

The threats were not specific and listed no date or time.

“Things like this tend to be copycats,” said Dr. Tod Burke, the Associate Dean of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences at Radford University. Burke is a criminal justice professor and former Maryland police officer.

“The main purpose is to disrupt the school day,” he said. “The number of threats isn’t as important as what’s in the threat, the more specific a threat is the more credible it is.”

“These types of things are often pranks, dangerous pranks,” Burke said. “It seems like this is an attention grabber, specific for the school but not listing the time or location of the bomb.”

Still, schools don’t have the luxury of assuming a threat is a prank.

“We struggle with the intent and credibility when there are no specifics, but we still take it very seriously,” Hornak said.

Holt schools have a protocol for dealing with threats that is followed. The first step is to call the Michigan State Police who guide the schools on the best way to handle the situation.

“Calling the police is the most important part. The PD comes in and takes over. We have a strong partnership with them and communicate well. They better understand the intent and credibility than we can.”

The next step for Hornak is to call the school board and inform them of the situation.

“Then I’ll call the building the threat was in and alert the staff and confirm the threat. I’ll also call buildings close by to warn them of the danger,” he said.

After calling the buildings Hornak contacts the parents of the children in the school. He then tells the public what is going on.

“The procedure is correct,” Burke said. “Questions like ‘Should I pull the fire alarm, or wait for the police?’ ‘What happens if the bomb goes off when the police are there, or on their way?’ should be asked. The police can definitely help determine the credibility of the threat.

“The threats were sprinkled across the district and came from different sources,” Hornak said.

Two of the students who made threats have been caught. After a student is caught, the school then goes through steps to decide the punishment for them.

“Random people making the same threat with no knowledge of the others is rare. Sadly, the media can put the idea out there and add fuel for the copycats,” Burke said.

The two students who were caught were expelled after admitting they made the threats, according to Hornak.

“We do a building level review of the situation, and then a due process hearing. There we decide if the student should be suspended, expelled, or returned to class,” Hornak said.

Hornak is working with Michigan State Police on a program to help reduce the number of threats.

“I hope to do a screen test narrating the seriousness of making threats like this, and explain the consequences of them,” he said.

There was a scheduled meeting between Hornak and the State Police to set up a program, but the meeting fell through.

“We were unable to meet, it had something to do with the weather,” Hornak said.

“A procedural checklist would be helpful. A lot of places have procedures, but if they’re not followed it could be dangerous. Training everyone involved is important,” Burke said.

“Input from the people who it effects are important, the faculty, student government, the more input the better. It shouldn’t just come from the upper levels of administration,” he said.

“Another thing to look at is evacuation procedures. A lot of schools evacuate people to the parking lot and wait for the policed to come. Sometimes bombers could put bombs in cars. Make sure the area is safe and be aware of secondary threats,” Burke said.

The schools do offer a program called OK 2 Say.

“The program allows students to text in suspected threats, and has helped us out,” Hornak said.

“OK 2 Say is becoming common, and it’s a good thing. People who discover the problems are at the school – students, staff, faculty – they know what’s usual. An item left behind could look normal but a staff member might see it and think the location is unusual. Do not pick up the item,” Burke said.

“Social media can hint at threats, and it’s easily traceable. Even if it’s on Yik Yak, nothing is anonymous,” he said.

Hornak is urging parents to talk to their kids about the seriousness of threats and consequences.

“Parents can be very influential in a situation like this,” he said.

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